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First grade: What your child should know

Keep tabs on your first-grader's development with this handy checklist.

By GreatSchools Staff

No two kids are alike, especially when it comes to hitting developmental benchmarks. But it helps to have a rough idea of which academic and social skills your child should acquire at his or her grade level. Learn more about the first-grade classroom in these subject areas: reading, writing, language arts, math, science, technology, social studies, art, music, and physical education. Or check your state's academic standards to find out what students are required to learn.

By the end of the year, you can expect your child to:

  • Work independently at her desk
  • Listen to longer sets of directions
  • Read directions off the board, although some children may still have difficulty with this
  • Complete homework and bring it back the next day
  • Sit in a chair for a longer period of time
  • Be able to see things from another person's point of view so you can reason with your child and teach her empathy
  • Relate to and repeat experiences in greater detail and in a logical way after listening
  • Problem-solve disagreements
  • Crave affection from parents and teachers
  • Have some minor difficulties with friendships and working out problems with peers
  • Distinguish left from right
  • Be able to plan ahead
  • Write and spell untaught words phonetically
  • Read and write high-frequency words such as where and every
  • Write complete sentences with correct capitalization and punctuation
  • Understand and use correctly conjunctions and prepositions, such as but and beyond
  • Read aloud first-grade books with accuracy and understanding
  • Tell time to the hour and half-hour using analog and digital clocks
  • Quickly answer addition problems with sums up to 20
  • Quickly answer subtraction problems with numbers 0 to 20
  • Complete two-digit addition and subtraction problems without regrouping


Comments from readers

"Academic gains are dependent upon the curriculum that a school uses to instruct our children. For example, at my school first graders will work on addition and subtraction up to 20, they will do double digit addition with regrouping and will learn the foundations for multiplication. The administration aggressively pushes hours of homework and prides themselves in accelerated students. Parents like 2/3/2012 can brag that their first grader reads at a third grade level but it is really the expected FIRST GRADE level at schools like mine. If a child is very intelligent then he will thrive in an environment like this but if he is of average intelligence or below average intelligence then he will struggle and be set up for failure. I'm a first grade teacher at this school and also the parent of two children at this school. My children shed many tears over the high academic demands that were placed on them during their early elementary years but do well now that they are in junior high and high school. (same school) I feel that we need to ease up a bit in early elementary to allow students to develope the emotional maturity that is needed to handle a strenuous academic load. "
"The comment of 2/3/12 obviously comes from a parent of only one child. I have a gamut of abilities in my 4 children so even though each was given equal opportunities at home and school they all learn differently. Perhaps you shouldn't be giving yourself such a big pat on the back. You were probably just lucky. Plus, not all schools are the same. "
"The comment on 8/23/2010 about too much homework is ridiculous. My first grader was reading at a first grade level in Kindergarten. She was speaking in full sentences before she turned one. All because we took the time to teach her what she needs to know instead of relying on public schools. Start your kids early and there would be less struggling once they enter school. My first grader reads at almost a 3rd grade level because we, as her parents, are her best teachers. My advice to you, spend the summer getting your child caught up so second grade goes more smoothly. "
"I think it is absolutely ridiculous the curriculum they have set for the first grade. This has made me so angry over the past year because my husband and I would stay up with our son every single night doing at the very LEAST three hours of homework. THIS IS NOT what I think is beneficial for our children in this society. In first grade, children are not developed enough to have all this information jammed down their throats and then are expected to retain it? Are you kidding me? That is a joke. It is wrong and I wish that I had gotten my degree in teaching instead of Web Design/Development because I definitely would rather be there to assist and help our children that are OUR future society get through this kind of school work that is far beyond their means. It takes their childhood away from them. IT is NOT something I support and I will not ever support it. NO ONE person learns the same or at the same speed or level and this level far exceeds what first grade is about. An! d this list is NOT true. They left ALOT of it out. So please whomever put this list up- let the parents know the truth and put what the real deal is up there. This is not it. We had to retain our child because they do not teach the basics long enough. You have to know the basics of learning ANYTHING before you can go further on. And this I just am amazed at the fact that it would be posted when they left so much out on what they teach the children and how fast they have to learn it. We are failing our children by supporting this way of teaching. It is against everything I believe in."
"These are interesting tasks for the end of first grade. We were doing most of these things in Kindergarten. It makes me wonder if he would get bored in first grade. I hope it is a great year for him..."
"wow this really helped me out"
"Your child sounds very young to be in first grade compared with the requirements of my school system. Perhaps keeping him back would truly be best for him and allow him to catch up. Also, don't fear a 'Special Ed' stigma -- and certainly don't convey one to your son. Each of my twins needed additional help in separate areas -- which they got in PreK and K levels. They have since 'graduated' out of Special Ed; it need not be permanent. My son profited from additional help from a reading tutor this year in first grade and is now where he should be. The important thing is to help your son as soon as possible so that he can enjoy learning in school as soon as possible."
"I have an 5 yr old son who is in 1st grade struggling very badly to keep up. i feel as if the school is pushing for him to be put in special education. I would not be against this if it were true, but my child tries in every way to keep up. I do agree that he has some trouble with his reading and math. I also am ashamed of myself as a mother for not noticing that my child could not write(meaning hold a pencil) or recognize his alphabets. He now ha these tools which i am thankful for butte road ahead seems so hard for my son and myself. i dont want him labeled or placed in a class fr schools budget. I just need help as to what programs work amd where there is extra help."
"My child is learning vocabulary in first grade, words like: strategy, solution, escape, fright, etc. Are these words first grade level for vocabulary? They seem like maybe second or third grade. what is standard vocabulary words for first grade?"
"This is a great article with good information on where a child should be by the end of the school year."