Preparing your Child for Preschool and Kindergarten

07/10/2016 03:08 pm ET

Entering Preschool and Kindergarten is an important step in your child’s life as they begin their academic journey. The adults in a child’s life - their caregivers, their teachers, and their health providers - are responsible for working together to ensure each child is prepared to explore academic advancement. But how exactly do we measure achievement for children at this age? How do we know when a child needs additional attending?


The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) measures academic achievement based on Learning Standards, Benchmarks, and Performance Descriptors (Levels). Before we can move on let’s look at the difference between the three. Definitions have been provided by ISBE’s Early Learning and Development Standards (IELDS).


Learning Standards

Defines what students/children should know and be able to do. Like the state goals, many learning standards in the IELDS are aligned for all grade levels, preschool through high school.



Provide teachers with specific ways that preschool children demonstrate learning standards. The benchmarks are unique to preschool children.


Performance Descriptions

There are three levels of performance descriptors in the IELDS: Exploring (the first level where a child is just beginning to show some of the aspects of the benchmark), Developing (the second level where the child is beginning to show more understanding or related skills), and Building (the description of how a child demonstrates the benchmark as it is written).


It is extremely important to note that not all children are going to fall into the categories or examples listed below. Children develop at their own paces and illustrate development in different ways. That is why it is so important for schools, parents, and providers to work together to ensure each child is given the opportunity to advance given their own specific qualities and interests.



Areas of Preschool Development Standards and Benchmarks


Preschool Development Standards fall into the following Learning Areas: Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Physical Development & Health, The Arts, Language Development, and Social/Emotional Development with over 50 benchmarks in each Learning Area.  We’re going to review two benchmarks from learning area category below. We will also explain three example performance descriptors provided by Illinois State Board of Education. There is a full description of the Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards here if you are interested in reading it in its entirety. Below are a few highlights.


Language Arts

Language Arts at a preschool level is a predictor of reading success in the future. Children exemplify their ability to comprehend language be listening and speaking. In Language Arts development, there is a focus on helping children play with language, interact with books, tell stories, and begin to write.


Let’s look at a couple of benchmarks below.


Benchmark: Understand and use question words in speaking.

Performance Descriptors -

Exploring: Answer and ask questions that begin with “who” or what”.

Developing: Answer and ask questions that begin with “where” or “when”.

Building: Answer and ask questions that begin with “who”, “what”, and “where”, “when”, “why”, and “how”.

Benchmark: Identify emotions from facial expressions and body language.

Performance Descriptors -

Exploring: Look at a person’s face or body language and ask how s/he feels (e.g., “What’s wrong with her, teacher? Did she get hurt?”).

Developing: Look at a person’s face to determine how they feel (e.g., “She looks mad.”).

Building: Look at a person’s body language to determine how they are feeling (e.g., “He’s sitting there all by himself. I think he’s sad, teacher.”).


The emphasis for preschool age children is not mathematical “facts” (e.g., 2+2=4) but more mathematical “procedures.” Mathematical procedures can be counting out objects. Rather than teaching kids to recite the numbers 1 through 20, it is important that they can sit in front of ten objects and count them. Even better, count 5 triangles in a group of 10 shapes overall.


Let’s look at a couple benchmarks below.


Benchmark: Recognize that numbers (or sets of objects) can be combined or separated to make another number.

Performance Descriptors -

Exploring: Combine items to create a new number (e.g., combine two blocks with a friend’s two blocks and say, “Now we have four.”)

Developing: Separate items from a set (e.g., with a set of three cups, takes one away and says, “Now we have two.”)

Building: Recognize that combining sets always results in “more” and separating sets always results in “less.”


Benchmark: Begin to construct a sense of time through participation in daily activities.

Performance Descriptors -

Exploring: Ask about the sequence of the daily schedule (e.g., “When will we have snack?” “When are my Mom and Dad coming?”).

Developing: Know the sequence of the daily schedule and guess the progression of the schedule throughout the day but not with accuracy (e.g., guess incorrectly that snack is after circle time yet knows that Mom or Dad will come after outside time).

Building: Know the sequence of the daily schedule and begin to accurately gauge time by progression of the schedule throughout the day (e.g., know that naptime comes after lunch or that outside time comes after snack).


When preschool age children are learning science, teachers should help them to explore scientific dispositions like curiosity, motivation to answer questions and solve problems, and an interest in discovery.


Let’s look at a couple benchmarks below.


Benchmark: Show an awareness of changes that occur in oneself and the environment.

Performance Descriptors -

Exploring: Observe similarities and differences when viewing pictures of self, beginning in infancy.

Developing: Observe living things to see how they change over time (e.g., compare a variety of plants to observe how quickly they grow and change over time).

Building: Understand that living things grow and change. Can use drawings or other forms of representation to describe changes familiar to them (e.g., record changes in a nearby tree through the seasons).


Benchmark: Describe and compare basic needs of living things.

Performance Descriptors -

Exploring: Compare human basic needs to those of other living things.

Developing: Compare what different animals need to live and grow.

Building: Observe, describe, and compare the habitats of various plants and animals.

Social Studies

In order for children to study “social relationships and the functioning of society” (Merriam-Webster) they first focus on themselves and their families. Children eventually learn about their communities, that they are apart of a community and that there are other members within. Then they can broaden that to understand that there are other communities, neighborhoods, cities, etc.


Let’s look at a couple benchmarks below.


Benchmark: Participate in voting as a way of making choices.

Performance Descriptors -

Exploring: Demonstrate preferences and choices when the group votes to make simple decisions.

Developing: Participate in discussions about how voting works (e.g., that the majority vote wins).

Building: Demonstrate an understanding of the outcome of a vote (e.g., recognize and accept that the majority vote wins).


Benchmark: Describe some common jobs and what is needed to perform those jobs

Performance Descriptors -

Exploring: Identify commonly known community workers and the services they provide (e.g., describe the work of firefighters, nurses, mail carriers, doctors, and police officers).

Developing: Act out roles of commonly known community workers in dramatic play (e.g., pretend to be a cashier in a grocery store).

Building: Identify tools and equipment that correspond to various roles and jobs of commonly known community workers.

Physical Development and Health

Physical health and development is crucial to a child’s overall development. On top of the health benefits, creative movement and play even enhance higher brain functioning.


Let’s look at a couple benchmarks below.


Benchmark: Use strength and control to accomplish tasks.

Performance Descriptors -

Exploring: Put on clothing items, such as shirts, jackets, pants, and shoes.

Developing: Demonstrate ability to use writing and drawing tools (e.g., hold pencils, crayons, and markers in a functional grasp; use paintbrushes to make strokes at an easel).

Building: Demonstrate eye-hand coordination and fine-motor control through various activities (e.g., string beads, manipulate pegs, build with small blocks, pour using different tools, assemble puzzles, button/zip, snap, use scissors to cut paper).

Benchmark: Identify simple practices that promote healthy living and prevent illness.

Performance Descriptors -

Exploring: Participate in discussions about healthy living (e.g., eating healthy foods, hand washing, sneezing and coughing into sleeve).

Developing: Distinguish food on a continuum from more healthy to less healthy

Building: Recognize the importance of doctor and dentist visits for staying healthy

The Arts

Allowing children to be creative gives them a chance to be imaginative and express themselves. Preschool teachers can learn about their student’s individuality by actively engaging in their artistic expression. Children should be introduced to musical instruments, a variety of artistic mediums, and a variety of opportunities for movement. Their introduction to these elements focusses on the process of manipulating them. The end product is something that comes later.


Let’s look at a couple benchmarks below.


Benchmark: Begin to appreciate and participate in music activities.

Performance Descriptors -

Exploring: Show appreciation for music through body language and facial expressions (e.g., clap when a favorite song is played).

Developing: Request favorite songs to sing, dance with, or listen to.

Building: Request favorite songs to sing, dance with, or listen to and describe favorite features of the song.


Benchmark: Describe or respond to their creative work or the creative work of others

Performance Descriptors -

Exploring: Paint a picture and discuss it with a classmate.

Developing: Comment on another child’s art and ask questions about it, independently or in response to teacher prompts.

Building: Comment on the art of professional artists.

Language Development

For children who are english speakers, their language development starts at home and continues when they socialize with their families and communities. It is important for preschool teachers to consider the home language of every student when helping them to develop their language skills in their first language and the language of their school. ISBE sites that recent research from cognitive neuroscientists finds that preschool is an ideal time for children to learn two languages and that their are multiple cognitive, social, and cultural benefits when young children have the opportunity to learn more than one language. Regardless of the languages children are exposed to, their language development is an important part of the preschool age.


Let’s look at a couple benchmarks below that apply to children whose home language is not English.


Benchmark: Use home language in family, community, and early childhood settings

Performance Descriptors -

Exploring: Label elements in family photo (e.g., self, family members, event, location) in the home language.

Developing: Describe actions in play scenarios and act out familiar role in dramatic play using home language (e.g., mother, grandfather, doctor).

Building: Resolve conflicts with another child who speaks the same language using home language (e.g., taking turns on a bike, sharing a doll).


Benchmark: Develop an awareness of the different contextual and cultural features in the early childhood and community settings the child participates in.

Performance Descriptors -

Exploring: Begin to show some awareness of different languages, communication styles, and/or formats to use in community settings (e.g., home, grocery store, church).

Developing: Begin to show some awareness of different languages, communication styles, and/or formats to use in early childhood settings (e.g., gym, art, playtime, group times

Building: Use different languages, communication styles, and/or formats to use in early childhood settings and in community settings (e.g., chooses language(s) for play depending upon the peer(s), turns and talks to a peer using appropriate language, talks to adults using appropriate language).

Social and Emotional Development

Social and emotional development includes identifying one’s own feelings and understanding those feelings. Emotional development is also the process of learning to regulate one’s behavior and develop empathy for others.


Let’s look at a couple of benchmarks below.


Benchmark: Begin to understand and follow rules.

Performance Descriptors -

Exploring: Begin to respond appropriately to teacher intervention when not following early childhood environment rules (e.g., stops throwing sand when asked most of the time).

Developing: Can discuss with teacher reason for teacher intervention when not following classroom rules (e.g., Teacher: “You need to come off the slide now. Do you know why?” Child: “Because I’m climbing up the slide instead of the stairs.”).

Building: Accept, with minimal frustration, consequences for not following the rules (e.g., being removed from the water table after repeatedly and intentionally splashing another child).


Benchmark: Describe self using several basic characteristics

Performance Descriptors -

Exploring: Express likes and dislikes, including favorite foods, colors, or activities.

Developing: Show confidence in abilities, (e.g., “Look what I can do.” or “Look how far I jumped.)

Building: Describe him or her self (e.g., talk about self in terms of looks, gender, family, and interests; complete a self-portrait and describe the picture to the teacher).

Learn more about Autism Family Center’s program to help prepare children for preschool and kindergarten based on the benchmarks outlined above.


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