How to Find IEP Goals for Special Needs Kids at the Preschool Level

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Preschool IEP Goal Development

If you’ve never written IEP goals for early childhood and you are faced with teaching a special needs preschooler in the regular education setting, you’re probably asking yourself the question, what are the IEP goals for preschool age children, and how are they written?

Writing IEP goals for preschoolers encompasses several different areas of development. The areas of development that may be covered on a preschool IEP are: cognitive, gross motor, fine motor, speech/language, adaptive, and social skills/behavior.

When a preschool child is tested for developmental delays as a requirement for special needs services, the areas that he or she is found to be behind in are the areas that IEP goals will be developed for. They are then addressed in the classroom by teachers, physical therapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, and other professionals.

IEP goals are typically based on test results that take place when a child is referred for special education services. The child’s goals will depend upon the deficits assessed. A child’s goals will be individually written based on the child’s present levels of performance, which are determined through an assessment. Preschool level assessments may be curriculum based. Goals must be written as measurable, and must include how often or accurately the skill should be performed in order to be considered complete.

Cognitive Skills

Preschool cognitive skills cover thinking skills. These are those pre-academic skills that are age appropriate for preschool age children. When planning cognitive skills, make sure the goals are functional, and will lead to a logical progression so that the child’s cognitive skills will naturally progress. Preschoolers should begin to learn counting skills from 0-15, one to one correspondence, simple patterning, and recognize their name. In addition, they should know most primary colors, shapes, and be able to recognize a few letters. Most preschoolers can follow a one or two part direction.

Gross and Fine Motor Skills

Gross motor skills are based on large muscle movements, like running, skipping, or riding a bike. Children between the ages of three and five are developing skills related to running, going up and down steps alternating feet in a natural manner, throwing a ball overhead, skipping, and galloping. Most preschoolers can kick a ball, pump themselves on a swing, and climb effectively on playground equipment.

Fine motor skills are those skills related to small muscle movements of the fingers and hands. Prewriting skills, like drawing circles, stick figures and shapes are developed at the preschool age. Lacing skills, building with blocks, painting with fingers or a brush, and coloring are all typically achieved at this age. Students should be able to string beads and pick up small objects, like beans, pasta pieces, or small craft items.

Adaptive Skills

Adaptive skills are also known as self help skills. Preschoolers are learning many different self help skills at this age. Some adaptive skills that are addressed at the preschool level include dressing skills, manipulating fasteners, buttoning, zipping, obtaining a glass of water from a sink, and washing hands. In addition, preschoolers should demonstrate proper eating skills, putting on socks and shoes, removing and putting on coats, putting on backpacks, picking up toys, carrying their own lunch tray in the cafeteria, and toileting skills.

Social Skills and Behavior

Social skills and behavior are those skills that involve interpersonal skills. At the preschool level, children should play cooperatively with friends, listen to a story, sit quietly in circle time, play with others on the playground, and answer questions when asked by a teacher or other child. Preschoolers usually develop at least one friendship, follow the classroom routine without disrupting the class, and follow classroom behavior management practices as explained. Preschoolers should separate well from parents, play board games together, and participate in outdoor playground activities as part of a group.


Speech/language skills are usually written by a speech pathologist, but the preschool teacher may contribute to the development of these goals. As far as basic classroom language goals, most preschool age children should be able to speak in complex sentences, answer questions asked by teachers and other children, answer questions related to a story, and ask for help when needed. Students should be able to request a favorite item, verbally make a choice between two or more items, sing favorite songs and recite familiar rhymes.

Whenever the question is what are the IEP goals for preschool age children, the answer is not concrete. IEP goals are developed on an individual basis, and are determined by an assessment that establishes delays in development. Teachers and other special education professionals will develop IEP goals with the individual student in mind, meeting the child where he is, and helping him to bridge the gap.