Cognitive Ability and Self-Confidence

What does it mean to be Kindergarten-Ready? The answer to that question will depend on who you ask: parents, teachers, policymakers, and scholars tend to look at different sets of skills that help a child thrive in school. One of the reasons why is it so difficult to settle on one definition of school readiness is because formal schooling presents a child with many different challenges. A child is confronted with physical, emotional, behavioral, as well as social challenges that are new and exciting. Even a child coming from preschool or pre-kindergarten, will find kindergarten brings new social, emotional and intellectual puzzles. Because a birthdate, instead of developmental stage, determines when a child starts kindergarten, it’s a sure bet that children are at different developmental stages when they reach school.1

Cognitive Skills

There is no one-size-fits-all for kindergarten-readiness; however, most researchers and practitioners agree that school readiness is linked to four main areas of development: language and literacy, cognitive skills, self-control, and self-confidence. Cognitive skills are tools we use to think and process information; they show that a child is able to learn and communicate through written or verbal speech.  It is important for children to enter kindergarten with a foundation of thinking skills. Obtaining basic thinking skills is critical because it is important for mastering more complex reading and mathematic concepts in the future.2


Intellectual preparation for kindergarten, including knowing the alphabet, colors and counting to 10, is central to preparing a child for kindergarten. However, it has been reported that teachers are more concerned with children who lack motivation and self-confidence, among other socio-emotional qualities.3 This insight indicates that social and emotional development may be just as important as intellectual development when preparing a child for kindergarten.

Because kindergarten-readiness and future success are linked to socio-emotional qualities in a child, emotional development in the early stages of life is critical. Children experience different advances in emotional development from infancy to kindergarten. While a newborn’s emotions are tied to her or his physical condition (hunger, body temperature, etc.), a preschooler’s emotions are connected to her or his psychological condition. Young children are able to more easily control their emotions by better anticipating and talking about their feelings. However, a young child still relies on the aid of adults in understanding and interpreting her or his emotions. In the first years of a child’s life, parents influence and guide a child’s understanding of socially acceptable behavior and instill feelings of shame, pride, or guilt that, in turn, construct a child’s self-concept. A child’s self-confidence and ability to practice self-control are heavily influenced by the support and coaching of parents and caregivers. Parents are able to lend strategies and support to children for managing stress and expressing anger, which the child will utilize on her own in the classroom. The early years of self-understanding and emotional growth establish a foundation of skills that are essential for doing well in the classroom. Because of this influence, there is a link between positive early life experiences at home and children who are well prepared, self-confident, and motivated to learn once they reach school age.3

Socio-emotional skills, such as self–confidence, are important because they enable a child to adapt to the heightened demand of rule compliance, goal-oriented activity, and creating positive peer and teacher relationships that she or he will have to maintain in the classroom.4 Children who have developed self-confidence by the time they reach kindergarten have higher self-esteem and feel comfortable doing things on their own. They are able to develop health relationships with peers and teachers and are able to “bounce back” from disappointments they might encounter.5


Ladd, G. W., Herald, S. L., & Kochel, K. P. (2006). School readiness: Are there social prerequisites? Early Education and Development, 17(1), 115-150.

Japel et al. (2007). School readiness and later achievement. Developmental Psychology, 43(6), 1428-1448.

Thompson, R. A. (2002). Roots of School Readiness in Social and Emotional Development. The Wing Marion Kauffman Foundation and The Kauffman Early Education Exchange: Kansas City, MO. Available here.

Bierman, K. L., Domitrovich, C. E., Nix, R. L., Gest, S. D., Welsh, J. A., Greenberg, M. T., Blair, C., Nelson, K. E., Gill, S. (2008). Promoting academic and social-emotional school readiness:  The Head Start REDI program. Child Development, 79(6), 1802-1817.

Mackrain, M., Van Wheelden, K., & Marciniak, D. (2009).  Early Childhood Investment Corporation and Michigan’s Great Start Collaboration: Lansing, MI. Available here.