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A Guide to Every Grade

Jon Whittle
  • First Grade

    Elementary school begins in first grade. But in spirit, children begin first grade as kindergartners. Much happens over the course of the year to transform little children into young boys and girls. First-graders do not seem as wild as kindergartners  -- after all, they are more developed physically, neurologically, and psychologically. They are gaining more control over their bodies, both at the fine motor level (first-grade art often shows a big representational leap over kindergarten art) and at the large muscle level (first grade is when children often begin to show interest in specific sports). Your child has a better sense of self than she did a year ago, and less of a need to live in the here and now. And she is ready and willing to use her mind. This is what first grade is all about. It is a fun and fulfilling year.

    What to Expect

    1. A big emphasis on reading. Children range from reading fluently as preschoolers to still being unsure of their letters when they leave kindergarten.

    2. Numbers, numbers, and more numbers. There is lots of math in first grade  -- and it all seems like fun: sorting and classifying, reading and writing numerals, seeking patterns, working with tallying and statistics, exploring shapes and measurement.

    3. A little bit of homework. These days, most first-grade teachers tend to give a few minutes of homework once or twice a week to reinforce some classroom lessons.

    4. Writing, but not spelling. First-graders are given many chances to write. But what is on a child's mind at this age can outstrip his physical ability to hold the pencil and form the letters. Acceptance of "inventive" spelling is another part of helping children embrace the writing process.

    5. Increased emotional and physical independence. Children quickly learn to walk into the classroom themselves, then progress into other areas of self-management, such as hanging up coats (as the weather cools), returning library books, and handing in homework.

    6. Concentration. Kindergartners learn to listen in a circle; first-graders sit at their desks and listen to what is going on without getting distracted or requiring attention. This ability to concentrate develops over the course of the year, and sets the stage for second-grade academics.

    Watch Out for:



    • Slow readers. Do your best not to pressure your child into reading if he does not seem eager, and try not to force him to show you what he has been learning. How quickly a child learns to read has nothing to do with overall brightness or long-term reading ability.


    • Too much television. Research has shown that limiting television to 10 hours or less a week may assist a child in his reading; more TV-watching has been shown to slow reading achievement.


    • Pent-up feelings. First-graders are still emotional beings, likely to cry, yell, hit, or even throw tantrums when upset. This is a good age to begin urging your child to talk about feelings, and to guide her in beginning to find her own solutions to problems.