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Your first grader and science

First graders learn how to use their five senses to observe changes in living and nonliving objects.

By GreatSchools Staff

Science isn’t just a body of knowledge — it's a way of acquiring scientific concepts and principles, and the best elementary school programs get students interested in investigating the world around them. As children learn facts and vocabulary, they develop the ability to ask scientific questions, plan experiments to answer these questions, and develop reasonable explanations based on their observations.

Science standards vary widely from state to state and school to school, but the thinking skills taught by science are universal. Most elementary schoolers will get an introduction to sound, electricity, plants, animals, and the three states of matter (solid, liquid, and gas). The National Science Education Standards — the jumping-off place for many states — lists important topics and thinking skills for kindergarten through high school.

The topics below are examples taken from several states and therefore merely guidelines. To see how your child's schoolwork compares, check out your state's science standards.

What science concepts will my first-grader learn?

First-graders learn about the world around them through observations and experiments. They’ll be encouraged to use their five senses to observe and describe changes in objects they encounter. Expect first-grade teachers to introduce some or all of the following concepts:

Living things and their habitats: Living things need food, water, space, and shelter to survive. Plants and animals live in particular habitats.

  • Oceans and sea life: Waves, currents, coral reefs, sea animals, and sea plants.
  • The human body: The systems that make up the body — circulatory, muscular, skeletal, nervous, and digestive — and how to take care of the body.
  • Matter: Materials come in solid, liquid, and gas forms, and matter can change states.
  • Measurement: Temperature and how it is measured.
  • Introduction to electricity and magnetism: Electric currents and circuits. Learns how batteries work and the push and pull of magnets.
  • Sound: Vibrating objects produce sound, and sound travels.

What types of science instruction will my first-grader get?

First-grade teachers typically teach students to do experiments and record observations. A teacher might help the class understand that for electric circuits to work, there needs to be a circular path, from a battery to a light bulb and back to the battery. The teacher might ask students to find as many arrangements as they can to light a bulb with a battery and wires, and compile the class results. Throughout the experiments, children should be encouraged to observe, ask questions, and communicate changes that they notice.

First-grade science often includes a unit on the work and lives of famous scientists like Louis Pasteur and Thomas Edison.

Comments from readers

"Very timely! My daughter just mentioned having a science book yesterday; I was curious as to what type of 'science' activities they'd be doing in 1st grade. I taught pre K for 7 years and it was my favorite part of the lesson plans so I make science out of everything at home. Cooking is a great way to provide your children with science activities. Watching their cookies bake due to the heat is fun and yummy too. We bought a butterfly 'farm' at the local toystore this summer and she would read very hungry caterpillar and sit next to the butterfly net until they finally hatched and were released in our backyard. I feel strongly about providing my daughter with these type of activities because as a girl I remember science was more fun for boys in school, I want her to have experiences that I was deprived of. now she wants a scientific explanation for EVERYTHING..."