Learning Guide: First Grade
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Learning Guide: First Grade

Your little student will become a reader this year and things will start adding up in the math department as well.

Portrait of a First Grader

First graders love attention and often show surprising self-confidence: "Me first. I'm the best. I know everything." Kids at this age are competitive and often awkward in social interactions. They have short fuses emotionally and are terrified of being left out. But as the year wears on, their social skills grow and their attention span increases. First graders are so interested in figuring out the world! They frequently imitate adult role models, so be careful that your child doesn't pick up some of your bad habits. They're also eager to please, and they form intense bonds with a "best friend" -- although the identity of that best friend may change from week to week. Many first-graders make very strong connections with their teachers, too.

What your child will learn

Learning to read -- and to enjoy reading -- is one of the great tasks of first grade. Throughout the year, some children may be fluid readers who adore books, while others stumble over letters but love to listen to stories. Don't be alarmed if your child moves at a pace you consider slow. Most children learn to read in their own time.

In first grade, students spend a lot of time listening to stories and reading stories to classmates. Teachers use basal readers or children's literature (many use both), utilizing a combination of sight-word recognition (learning words that appear over and over in text) and combining letter sounds. Your child will be encouraged to write stories; most of the writing will invite her to draw on personal experiences (Writing their memoirs at ages 6 and 7!). Some teachers encourage children to use unconventional, or "invented," spelling ("ezy"; for "easy). Other teachers use tests to guide children to spell correctly. A buzzword you may hear is "writing process." The task: choosing a topic, crafting a story, getting feedback, rewriting it, then reading it aloud. Math skills, too, will mushroom as she learns a lot more about numbers and "numeration" beyond counting. The structure of the day is different from kindergarten -- no naps and less free play, perhaps none. Desks may replace tables; either way, your child will be held responsible for her own things.

The computer activities in first and second grade move beyond educational game play and into software that helps kids create things on the computer. Some schools may have computer labs, but in-classroom computers are becoming more common. Teachers may have children work in pairs to produce a piece of writing and illustration.

In the Classroom

Teachers will show students how to...

  • Listen more carefully and for longer periods of times to stories. Focus more on the meaning of the words.
  • Recognize cause/effect relationships; predict the outcome of a situation.
  • Write simple stories.
  • Compare sets of objects using math symbols; read and write numerals (0 to 100) and number sentences; know the meaning
    of each digit in two-digit numbers; understand that a single object may represent a group (a dime represents 10 pennies).
  • Add and subtract single digits. Gather information; graph it (pile up blocks to show ratio of kids who prefer dogs to those who prefer cats) and draw conclusions; learn units of measure; tell time to the half-hour.
  • Study simple social concepts (holidays, our nation and flag).
  • Care for, and learn about needs of, animals and plants; discover by experimentation that objects have certain properties (weight, color, texture, etc.).

10 Ways Parents Can Help

  1. Read to your child every day for fun. Encourage her to read to you. Pronounce words she can't; don't let her labor over
    reading. Ask her to predict what she thinks will happen; then she'll look for information as she reads.
  2. Read non-fiction and how-to materials with your child (recipes, assembly instructions, etc.). Show her all the ways in which reading teaches you things about the world or helps you get things done.
  3. Help your child write letters. Make writing thank-you notes a regular responsibility, and take her to the post office to mail them.
  4. Obtain a library card for your child, in her own name. Visit the library often to check out books.
  5. Set aside a well-lit, comfortable place for her to work on projects, with ample paper and pencils, glue, scissors, and other materials.
  6. Display your child's art and writing prominently. Ask her to tell you about the work before you admire it; then comment on
    what you like, reaffirming what she likes.
  7. Play together with rulers, measuring cups, and yardsticks; have your child read off the measurements and record them.
  8. Explore concepts of time together. Help her move beyond merely telling time by posing questions (What time do you get up? What time would it be if you got up ten minutes later?).
  9. Talk about prices at the grocery store. Which item is more expensive? How many items can you buy for $1?
  10. Don't push your child to use the computer; she will quickly pick up all the computer literacy skills she needs in the
    classroom. Rather, set time limits on any computer use at home.

What the Experts Say

"First grade is the introduction year -- children are introduced to so many things, and despite teachers' hard work and kids' best intentions, not everything sticks. What a child learns in March can appear to be forgotten in May. But the material will be revisited again and again in the coming years, and when the time is right, everything clicks." Amy Ward, teacher, New York City

Here are some of the most popular and appealing series for first-grade readers:

  • The Henry and Mudge and Poppleton series by Cynthia Rylant
  • Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel
  • Little Bear books by Arthur Minarik
  • The Fox series by James Marshall