Middle Childhood Intervention 6-12:

Category — 1.0 Kindergarten: Academic Skills

Academic Skills

The development of academic skills and cognitive, language, motor and social/emotional skills are closely related. Kindergarten is usually a great time in the life of the child. He or she is not a preschooler anymore and is on his way to grade school. Kindergarten (Fig. 1) is a good stepping stone between preschool and grade school. Children still get to be children because kindergarten offers many of the same advantages as preschool. It has different learning corners/centers, it has circle time and plenty of opportunity for free play. At the same time, kindergarten is like grade school because children are now actively involved in learning academic skills. They are learning their letters, letter combinations and a few sight words (that is, recognizing certain words by sight, without necessarily being able to decode them). Most kindergartners can write their own name, and a few other simple words (such as cat and dog). They are also using very simple mathematical operations (for example: I will share half the red blocks with Johnny).


Figure 1. Kindergarten

But kindergarten can also be a difficult time for children who are not developing typically. Because of the emphasis on pre-academic skills, some kindergarten children will struggle in the classroom. Children with identified special needs (for instance, Down syndrome or autism) will get extra help and will do quite well in kindergarten. Kindergarten tends to be a bit more difficult for those children with milder and more subtle delays or difficulties, for example, fine motor, or difficulties following directions or playing with peers. These are children who could end up getting a diagnosis of a learning disability or ADHD when they are older.

It is very important that parents and teachers be aware of some of the signs of developmental delay and academic difficulties so that they can support children from the very beginning. It is also very important not to talk about children experiencing “academic delays” (see full Glossary) in the kindergarten year. Children in this year have not had a chance to get academically behind because they have just started to develop their academic skills. Although we should not talk about academic delays in kindergarten, we can and should talk about academic or pre-academic difficulties in this year. To review what typically developing children can do, academically, in kindergarten, please visit the typical development section of the course.

Children who may be experiencing academic delays, could exhibit the following symptoms:


These are some of the signs of possible future reading difficulties. A child may:

  • not know that letters and numbers are symbols that mean something;
  • experience difficulty recognizing certain common logos and signs in the community and at home, such as the “play” button on a video game or DVD player at home (if they have these items at home), and any common signs in the neighbourhood (for example, the sign of the grocery store or the pharmacy);
  • hold a book upside down;
  • experience difficulty with the recognition of their name in print and on their lunch box;
  • struggle with the alphabet, and only be able to name a few letters;
  • experience difficulties with word segmentation exercises;
  • experience difficulties with sound blending exercises;
  • experience difficulties with rhyming;
  • experience difficulties with nursery rhymes, and not being able to tell which word comes next, in a nursery rhyme, based on rhyming principles;
  • not be able to identify the first sound in a word;
  • not enjoy being read to, and may not be able to predict “what will happen next” in a familiar story – avoid books altogether.


There are some of the signs of possible writing difficulties. A child may:

  • experience difficulty with writing or scribbling;
  • avoid writing;
  • write words that people cannot understand or read (because of less than perfect handwriting);
  • avoid all or most activities that involve the use of pens, pencils, markers, paint brushes;
  • be unable or unwilling to write their first name;
  • struggle with tracing exercises. (see full Glossary)


There are some of the signs of future math difficulties. A child may:

  • experience difficulties with rote counting (for example: counting from one to ten);
  • be unable to identify the numbers 1 through 5;
  • struggle with even the simplest of patterns and be unable to continue it, (that is, being unable to tell what comes next, in the following pattern: red blue red blue red…);
  • struggle with one to one correspondence (that is, counting an object more than once or skipping an object when counting);
  • experience difficulties when someone gives them directions that contain math concepts;
  • not be able to identify simple shapes, such as circles and triangles;
  • struggle with basic and simple seriation activities.

Did you know?

  • Some children at this age get confused when they are trying to identify letters that look similar, for example, “b” and “d”. This is common in kindergarten, and is no reason for concern. If a child still finds this grades one or two, it should be seen as a warning sign that perhaps the child is experiencing serious difficulties with academic skills.
  • Some children at this age may not like being read to because they do not understand that letters are symbols. They may also struggle with predicting “what will happen next”. It is very important that we keep trying with these children, and continue to tell them stories. A child seriously resists having a story read to her, she can always be told a story, and when she gets comfortable with that, we can move up to reading a story with her (Fig. 2).

father reading with his daughter

Figure 2. Reading a story
  • Most children at this age really enjoy arts and crafts activities. Some children resist such activities because they genuinely dislike them, and that is just fine. But some children who avoid such activities do so because of fine motor or visual/motor difficulties. If that is the case, a referral for an occupational therapy  evaluation may be a good idea.
  • Most children at this age have an understanding of basic math concepts. Most children at this age will get upset or angry if they feel that someone got “more” of something than they did. Most will also ask for the biggest slice of pie. Terms such as “more” and “biggest” are mathematical terms and should not be overlooked when trying to determine whether or not a child is experiencing math difficulties. By watching a child’s use of such words, we can figure out if he or she is truly struggling with basic math principles. This is extremely important. A child with a basic understanding of math who struggles with mathematical symbols (for example, numbers) has very different needs than a child who cannot even tell the difference between “who got more and who got less cookies.”
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April 2, 2012   No Comments