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Your second grader and math

Building on the basics, second graders should be able to add, count, write whole numbers up to 1,000, and much more.

By GreatSchools Staff

Last fall results from national math exams stirred up a tempest in a standardized test. It turns out math scores rose more quickly before No Child Left Behind was implemented, and fourth grade math scores haven’t improved since 2007. As reported in the New York Times, the achievement gap remains a chasm between the haves and the have-nots.

What does this mean for your child? While pundits and politicians battle over the big issues, it's up to parents to stay on top of the little ones: their own kids' academic development. Keep tabs on what your second grader should learn in math this year with our grade-based milestones. Of course, math curricula still vary widely from state to state as school districts grapple with how to implement the Common Core Standards, so these are merely guidelines. For a better sense of how your child's schoolwork compares, look up your state's math standards, see what the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics recommends for preschool through high school, or read through the Common Core Standards for math.

In the classroom

What math concepts will your second grader learn?

Expect your child to become a minor master of the arithmetic skills he or she picked up in first grade. Over the year, first graders focus on understanding number relationships in addition and subtraction, first by using physical objects like rods and blocks and later with pencil and paper. If they haven't already, kids begin making the leap to mental math, gaining the confidence needed to do simple problems in their head.

"Your child should be able to recall her basic addition and subtraction facts from memory by the end of second grade," says Linda Eisinger, the 2005 Missouri Teacher of the Year.

Money, telling time, and number value

Second graders will continue their work from previous years by learning about money, time, and number values. They'll learn how to add and subtract money with decimal points and solve equations like $1.25 + $.20 = $1.45.

When it comes to clocks, your child should be able to tell time to the quarter-hour on analog and digital devices alike.

Students may learn about place value in numbers with as many as three digits. That means being able to break down a number into its components. Take 879: that's eight 100s, seven 10s, and nine ones. Students will also improve their abilities to compare whole numbers using the phrases "greater than," "less than," or "equal to" and the symbols >, <, or =.

Calculators: Tool or crutch?

How much should elementary school students rely on calculators? The issue has been debated by math teachers, university professors, and parents, but there is general agreement that calculators shouldn’t be a substitute for learning basic arithmetic skills. Talk to your child's teacher about how they are used in his or her classroom. For a discussion on the pros and cons of calculators, check out Education World’s article "Educators Battle Over Calculator Use: Both Sides Claim Casualties."

What to look for when you visit

  • Graphs on display, pictures of geometric shapes, and number lines used to practice addition and subtraction
  • Tiles, rods, blocks, or other objects used for counting and sorting
  • Measuring devices such as rulers, scales, and thermometers
  • Time set aside for pencil-and-paper practice with numbers
  • Lessons in problem solving throughout the day ("If 15 of you are buying milk for lunch, and 10 are buying juice, how many more students are getting milk?")

Updated January 2010

Comments from readers

"Thank for the insight, my 2nd grader is not grasping most of what you stated above. I tried to show him but find myself to be a yeller and that is surely intimidating him. I feel he should get it if I tell him more than one time. I also feel I might not be teaching him the same way it is taught to him at school and thus cause more"
"My child is also doing fractions at this point in second gr. He has already done mult, divsion and large digit add-sub with regrouping/borrowing.Long divsion also has been done with remainders. All kids are different at their levels and I do not believe it is good to not help those more that need it and to encourage those more who need it---to move ahead (all of us need to be challenged reasonably/at our levels where it is not frustrating)The key is to get kids to love math (limit the frustration---keep to their levels and build accordingly), use home-work primarily for RETENTION purposes, know the MATH FACTS (1-20) to automacity in the summer before entering 2nd gr----VERY KEY!!!Then the child is ready and confident and feels good about them-selves----THEY ARE VERY READY THEN TO MOVE QUICKER AND GRASP NEW CONCEPTS BECAUSE THE FOUNDATION HAS BEEN LAID.Second gr moves through alot of math so this is very important.I have used a wonderful math tutor with great techn (used her method over the summer and it very much showed when my child went back to school and tested).I want to add one other thing, he was a an average student in math in first----until we took control! of his learning as parents (over the summer).Often times (myself included), I think it is easy to just trust that your kid is getting what they need in school---we trust the teacher and the system-----now I am better informed---I look at the Curriculum and State Standards---one can learn alot there---Check out Math Fact Requirment in first gr (kid should know these 1-20 to AUTOMACITY-----THIS MEANS THEY SHOULD BE QUICK TO RECALL).This is one of the BIGGEST THINGS THAT IS NOT HAPPENIONG ALL-OVER IN SCHOOLS."
"I think children in elem. school should not be able to use calculators at all. This is the time they need to learn how to do this stuff either on paper or in there heads. If they get to use a calculator then they will be thinking they can use them all the time. "
"Mastering addition and subtraction? My second grader is already doing fractions and beginning multiplication. I do, however, feel that they are pushing kids too hard, too fast to stay up with the tests. I was not learning fractions until 3rd grade. I should not have to see my children get so frustrated every night over homework."
"My daughter is also in second grade. I learned while she was in Kindergarten that Math was not her favorite subject. She is in a magnet school now which is quite different being in a Montessori school. I heard and read about Kumon ( and decided to give it a try. She has been doing Kumon for a little over a year and I am very impressed with this method. Not only that my daughter is learning the very basic foundation of Math, I think she is loving it. She just finished multiplication and now doing division which I would have never imagined she can do if she is not in Kumon. I also think the public school system has to follow their schedule, and they give so many topics in a very short period of time. The students not only feeling overwhelmed, they are not really fully grasping what the teachers are teaching and become frustrated and just plain give up on it. I would recommend Kumon to any parent whose children are having difficulty in Math and Reading! or if you just want your children to be ahead. Most Asian parents like myself have children placed in Kumon at age 4 and we rave about our children's accomplishments in a very a short period of time, thanks in part to Kumon. Proud mom in Tampa"
"I just love my emails cause they really do help, because my son is now doing greater and lesser and bigger addition. thanks so much. ms.batts"
"My son is in second grade, and he's learning algebra in math. Some of his homework in math looks like a very complicated Sodoku puzzle! He did time, money, place values, and all that in kindergarten. I think you need to get with the times and check with the schools and the states they're in before you post."
"anybody have idea'a of how to get your kid exited about math?"
"My child has ADHD. He is in second grade, but can not understand the concepts of doing math. His short memory term does not allow him to do the math on his own. Sitting with me or other members of the family and his school teacher, he can somewhat do the work.This is the assignments Ive seen him try 34+20+12=, Money problems w/ coins showing and the addition and subtraction mixed on a page is very hard because he cant concentrate enough to change the signs. I dont know if you can understand what Im trying to say, but he needs alot of help. What can I do? Hurting for my child"
"It is wonderful to keep us informed like this. As parents, want to be engaged on a continual basis in our child's development. Such information is invaluable. Regards, Laurie and Jon Pietrak"
"My second grader was attending a low preforming school. I need advice to get him/she on target. I need suggests and website's to assist"
"I think these emails are great ways to teach my children how to excel in school. Keep up the good work. I have been helping my children excel in school, because of the knowledge these emails provide."
"As a parent of a second grader, I cannot believe what a challenge school has become. Now I can understand why so many children face problems especially with the exams that are given and the responsiblilties they give at such a young age. What is happening here ???? . What are we trying to prove? It is sad how they are working children of today. We need to speak up and put an end to it!!!! "
"Thank you for this feature. As a grandparent I appreciate knowing what my granddaughter is doing in school. It helps when purchasing educational gifts. When we play games its also nice to know.I can keep the games fun and interesting but still challenging. Thank you Great Schools, Gramma Monica"
"Thanks again for sending information regarding my son being in the 2nd grade. I need information on how to make counting money easier. I am not actually sure how to approach that. "
"My son has not memorized his addition and subtraction facts. He does well when he can take his time but does terribly on speed drills. Nothing I do seems to help him memorize those facts! Overall he is an A student and as decided that he hates math because he should know his facts better. HELP!!"