5 Skills Every Toddler Should Master Before Starting School - Small Legacies

5 Skills Every Toddler Should Master Before Starting School

By Kendra Johnson

Starting school is a big moment for every kiddo—and maybe even more so for their parents. This is a milestone that means significant transition, and we, as parents, must gauge our child’s readiness to ensure success through the transition. 

If you’ve brought questions about school readiness to the internet yourself, you’ve probably noticed that many articles focus on academic skills—knowing the ABCs, counting to ten—but they neglect the other aspects of readiness. 

In reality, there are much more important things your child needs to know before heading to school. Teaching life skills is a crucial first place to start.

1. Potty Training Age

Before beginning school, your child should be fully potty-trained. This may seem obvious, but any parent who has begun this process knows that it can be a prolonged and challenging task. Although wiping independently may still be a challenge, your child should feel confident going it alone. 

I cannot recommend Oh Crap Potty Training highly enough. Her program worked wonders for me and my boys. She encourages potty training around age two, however she has some amazing advice and tips for parents who are struggling at ages three, four, or five and beyond. 

2. Toddler Dressing Themselves

By the time your little one goes to school, they should be fully capable of getting themselves dressed. This includes picking an outfit, putting dirty PJs in the laundry bin, fully clothing themselves with no inside-out items, and getting their shoes and socks on. 

Okay, let’s be honest. It’s easier (and WAY faster) to get them dressed yourself. In the midst of a chaotic morning, it’s hard to find the patience for your 4-year-old’s snail pace as they put on their own shoes. I get it. 

Start by practicing when you don’t need to be somewhere at a set time—every time you go to the grocery store or the park, for example.

My perspective on this changed hugely when I read Hunt, Gather, Parent by NPR correspondent Michaeleen Doucleff. Her work helped me find the patience to successfully foster independence in my sons. Fostering independence in our kids during daily tasks is one of our major goals at Jake and Jack and getting dressed is a big one. 

3. Your Child Can Blow Their Nose 

Your child is going to get sick. A LOT. We can expect our little ones to catch every single virus that enters their classroom. 

If you find yourself constantly holding the tissue for your kids, it’s time to make a change. Teach them not only to wipe their nose, but to blow their nose and to dispose of the tissue properly. This is my BIGGEST struggle right now. As I'm writing this, Shane starts 4K in just two weeks and he still just wipes his nose constantly, not actually blowing his nose. We practiced a few times tonight and he's getting there but it is taking a long time (mostly because he's stubborn I think). 

Of course, after this, they need to either wash their hands or use hand sanitizer. Make a habit now of having your child wash their hands after every tissue use and every bathroom use. 

4. Are Your Kids Eating Independently?

This may sound ridiculous—your child has been feeding themselves for years—but really think about it. Do you cut their food for them? Do you open their drink containers? Do you put their food in the freezer because it’s too hot? My boys are notorious for being super sensitive to temperature and I definitely need to stop catering to them each time by putting the food int he freezer. We're working on just waiting patiently for it to cool and blowing on it as an alternative. 

Make sure your child knows how to use their utensils properly and how to cut food (with a dull knife or fork) independently. If you’ll send a juice box or other drink in their lunch every day, make sure they know how to open it themselves. And lastly, teach them how to safely check the temperature of their food to avoid burning their tongue. Obviously, school lunches aren’t going to be searing hot, but you never know—they might catch that slice fresh out of the oven on pizza day. 

5. Know How to Ask for Help

Ask yourself: how does your child act when they do need help? It’s important to remember that our kids are still little. They simply can’t do everything alone. But how do they handle themselves when they encounter something they can’t manage? Do they throw a fit? Do they yell “Mommy!” millions of times until you come running?


Teach your child the proper way to ask for help. At school, that could mean walking over to the teacher quietly or raising their hand. It means saying “Excuse me.” And it means saying “please.” 

As a teacher, I experienced countless times when students would throw something at me and say, “Can you open this?” or when they’d melt down, say, “I can’t do this!” and throw their papers on the floor. 

Your child’s ability to recognize when they need help, regulate their frustrations, and calmly ask for help is HUGE. Chances are your child will not have fully mastered this skill by the time they start school—and that's okay—but if you've actively worked toward this goal together, they'll be far better equipped to continue advancing.


There are so many ways we can support our kids as they prepare for this huge milestone. Whether you’re sending your child out of the home for the first time or transitioning them from daycare to school, you can start by teaching them these 5 everyday skills to help them thrive. 

What skill from this list or beyond have you found to be especially integral to your child's school readiness? Comment Below!

Kendra Johnson is a certified elementary educator based in rural Wisconsin. As a parent and teacher, Kendra has a passion for teaching through engaging and varied techniques. Her background in theatre, educational technology and curriculum development have fueled her passion for teaching life skills to youth creatively.

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