Your child and technology: what your first grader needs to know

When first graders use technology in the classroom, they start to use a keyboard; master terms like menu, file, save, and quit; and even learn to navigate the web.

By GreatSchools Staff

First graders in a high-tech world

What role should technology play in your first grader's education? Of course, first graders shouldn't be spending their days (at home or school) planted in front of a glowing screen. Instead, the best first grade classrooms incorporate technology sparingly to augment learning and lay the foundation for technological literacy. According to the Common Core Standards Initiative, which the majority of states adopted in 2010-2011, first graders should be learning basic technological skills to support core subjects like reading, writing, and math. (Many states also follow the National Educational Technology Standards for Students (NETS-S). Reality check: although these technology standards exist, how much teachers incorporate them varies widely.

Some basic mastery of high-tech skills in the first grade — such as becoming familiar with a computer keyboard and even navigating a website — will start your child on the road to technological literacy. The goal is that by the end of elementary school, students will know how to make use of multimedia tools that support their education. Here’s a primer for the types of technology you might find in your first grader's classroom, what skills your first grader needs to have, and how these skills can help your child learn.

Tools of the grade

Your first grader may have one or more computer workstations in the classroom, visit a computer lab once a week, or have no access to computers at all. If your child's class does use technology to support learning, here are the tools you might expect to find:


  • Educational software that reinforces reading and math skills
  • Multimedia encyclopedias and dictionaries
  • Digital camera
  • Video camera
  • Interactive story books on a computer
  • One computer or more with access to the Internet and a printer
  • Large-screen display connected to a computer
  • An interactive whiteboard
  • One tablet or more

Even if your child's class has little more than a computer and printer, there’s no need to panic. The skills a first grader needs can be taught using basic high-tech tools.


Technology skills your first grader needs

To be on track, here’s what your child should know by the end of first grade:

  • Basic computer terminology: understand terms like menu, file, save, print, and quit — and know how to find them on the screen; know different parts of the computer like the monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer, and speakers.
  • Basic computer skills and keyboarding: know how to use a mouse and find letters, numbers, and commonly used symbols; navigate a child-friendly website or software program.
  • Web basics: understand what the Internet is and how it can be used to find information.
  • Publishing basics: with guidance from the teacher, write and publish or print a simple document using a web-publishing program.

By learning these skills in first grade, your child will have the basic knowledge needed to start doing research and communicating thoughts in writing, which are essential to learning core academic subjects like reading, writing, math, and science.


Using technology for reading and writing

Common Core Standards recommend that first graders be able to listen to a story online and answer questions about key details in the text. At a minimum, first graders should also be able to read basic computer terms ("Menu," "File," "Print," "Quit") so they can use a standard word processing program. Ideally, they'll even have enough reading and technical fluency to understand how to navigate a child-friendly website and read everything from electronic menus to icons.

As your first grader’s reading improves, he may even start learning how to do basic research online, another essential skill for future grades. According to the Common Core Standards, with guidance and support from adults, first graders should be able to "use a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers." First graders may also learn a suite of other computer fluency skills like knowing how to change the font, color, and size of the text.

Multimedia and math

By using tech tools, your first grader can become more skilled at mouse and keyboarding skills while reinforcing basic math concepts. With draw and paint software programs, for example, your first grader can model addition and subtraction word problems with number sentences and pictures. (A number sentence includes numbers, an operation symbol, and an equal sign, e.g. 2+3=5.) Or the class may draw graphs on paper, then work with the teacher to create graphs using graphing software or a spreadsheet program.

Outside of class, free websites like Khan Academy can help your child learn math, whether she needs a brush-up on basics or she’s ready to race ahead. (A bonus for parents whose kids love playing with smartphones or tablets: knowing how to navigate a touch screen enables them to easily use educational apps (like these), which allows children to touch and manipulate math concepts on the screen.


Scientific discovery aided by technology

Key areas of focus in first grade science include the ocean and sea life, the human body, states of matter, measuring temperature, electricity and magnetism, and properties of sound. (Read all about your first grader and science here.) In an Internet-connected first grade classroom or computer lab, science can be as close as that white board, monitor, tablet, or computer screen. For your first grader, understanding how to navigate the Internet becomes an invaluable skill for scientific discovery. If your child's first grade class is equipped with more multimedia tools, the teacher might lead your child through experiments and hands-on learning, using tools such as digital cameras, video cameras, and web publishing programs as a way to help your child document and record scientific inquiries and observations.

Outside of school, you can help foster your first grader’s thirst for science using digital tools, too. Children can watch close-up footage of whales, rainforests, or space online at National Geographic and on YouTube. They can play with animated versions of the elements in the periodic table or simulations of tornados or the night sky on your smartphone or tablet. Or they can take pictures or videos (like this) of experiments they create at home.