What to expect in first grade

Learn about what to expect for your child in first grade.

By Miriam Myers

In your child's classroom

In first grade your child will become more independent and learn how to adapt to the school's routine. Donna Adkins, our teacher consultant, explains: "First grade is probably the most critical period in your child's education. It is a pivotal grade in which the foundation for the rest of the primary grades is set."

Building reading and writing skills

Most critical in first grade is the development of reading and writing skills. Your child will move from pre-reading skills to building crucial language skills in reading, spelling and writing. At home you can read stories aloud to your child often and ask questions such as "Who are the characters in the story?" "Where does the story take place?" "What happens in the beginning, middle and end of the story?"

Mastering math skills

In math your child will learn addition and subtraction facts, and how to tell time. She will count coins and identify patterns in numbers and objects. Practice these skills at home by asking your child to spot repeating patterns in her daily life and surroundings, such as designs in her clothing.

Assuming responsibility and routines

If your child attended a half-day kindergarten, first grade will mean attending school for a longer day. Talk to your child about "big kid" issues like packing a healthy lunch and how to treat other students on the playground. Adkins explains: "Since first grade is such a change from kindergarten, it becomes very important for parents to help their child set the stage for a great day. We know that we all feel poorly when we do not receive enough rest or do not eat properly. Children at this age do not know how much rest they need. It is up to the parents to ensure that their child learns these good habits."

In first grade your child will begin to assume responsibility and reinforce learning through homework. You'll want to prepare a quiet, organized work area and set aside time for her to do homework everyday.

You can use the summer before first grade to teach your child responsibility for a household chore. Adkins explains: "Choose a simple chore that that she can do without feeling overwhelmed. Start small and build. To raise a responsible child, responsibility must be cultivated early and continually."

Adkins adds: "Teaching your child independence is one of the most important jobs a parent has. One way to accomplish this is to develop daily routines that a child can follow. If a child knows that every morning when she gets up, she follows a particular routine for getting ready, then she can soon do it herself. In the evening, if your child knows the bedtime routine is to take a bath, brush teeth, read a story and get into bed, then not only is it easier to get her into bed, it is easier for the child to do it independently."

Each child passes through a range of social, academic and developmental stages at his own pace. Here are some guidelines for what to look forward to in the year ahead.

Physical and social skills you can expect of your first grader:

  • Listen for longer periods of time
  • Work independently at her desk
  • Listen to longer sets of directions
  • Complete homework and turn it in the next day
  • Stay seated for a longer period of time
  • Be able to see things from another person's point of view so you can reason with her and teach her empathy
  • Relate experiences in greater detail and in a logical way
  • Problem-solve when disagreements arise
  • Crave affection from parents and teachers (eager to please?)
  • Experience minor difficulties with friends and working out problems with peers
  • Be able to plan ahead

Academic skills you can expect of your first grader:

  • Read directions off the board, some children may still have difficulty with this
  • Write words with letter combination patterns such as words with the silent e like make
  • Read and write high-frequency words such as where and every
  • Write complete sentences with correct capitalization and punctuation
  • Read aloud first-grade books with accuracy and understanding
  • Count change
  • Tell time to the hour and half-hour
  • Quickly answer addition and subtraction facts for sums up to 20
  • Complete two-digit addition and subtraction problems on paper

Learn more about where your child should be at the end of kindergarten.