First grade is an exciting time for new literacy skills. Your child now knows at least 2,000 words! She has a better sense of how words and language work and can sound out more complex words. She's becoming a better speller, too. In math, she's getting faster by the week at adding and subtracting, and she's learning to solve word problems. But your first grader still needs plenty of encouragement. In fact, she needs it now more than ever, says Susan Quinn, a reading specialist and elementary school teacher at Saint Brendan School in the Bronx, New York. "Kids will start to not like school at this age if they feel that they're not smart or that they're not doing well," Quinn says. So give your child extra doses of support this year. First graders are able to talk more about their feelings, so be sure to listen and help out if your child gets discouraged. Here are the important learning milestones children will typically achieve in first grade, with tips for helping your child stay on track.
At School: First graders will be able to read at least 150 high-frequency words ("sight words") by year's end; they will be able to read grade-level books fluently and understand them.
At Home: Give your budding bookworm lots of opportunities to read aloud every day. Have him read a short story aloud while you're cooking or putting dishes away, or give him the important job of reading to his younger sibling. Take turns reading the pages, help him sound out and learn unfamiliar words (use contextual clues like surrounding words or pictures), and keep discussing stories by asking questions ("Why do you think she did that?"). Help him learn prediction by asking, "What do you think will happen next?" and ask him to retell a story in a few sentences to practice summarizing. Always have kids' books or magazines handy if you need to wait somewhere, such as a doctor's office or train station.
At School: In first grade, kids will learn to spell three- and four-letter words and write clear, coherent full sentences. By the end of the year, your child will be forming short paragraphs with at least three or four sentences, and will also be able to write a basic short story (perhaps one about losing a tooth or learning to ride a bike).
At Home: Have your child keep a notebook at home, Quinn says. Kids this age love to write lists and notes to friends, so keep a special notebook on hand for this. It won't be graded, so your child should have fun with it. Encourage her to draw pictures and write without worrying about correcting spelling or grammar. Give fun writing prompts. After you visit the park, ask your child to write about the interesting things she did. Give children prompts connected to reading, too. "After you've read Charlotte's Web, have them write about a pet that they would like to have, or ask what they would name a pet pig if they had one," Quinn suggests.
At School: By the end of the year, kids will be able to count, read, write, and order sequential numbers up to 100. They will also learn how to compare numbers using the signs for greater than, less than, and equal to. First graders will be able to add whole numbers with a sum of 20 or less and subtract from a whole number 20 or less, and they will be introduced to the concept of place value when adding and subtracting two-digit numbers.
At Home: Help your first grader see how math is a big part of everyday life. When you go grocery shopping, talk about how much money you'll need to buy milk and bread. While waiting in line, practice counting by twos and fives together. Hang up a number chart in your child's bedroom showing numbers one to 100 and find a place mat with numbers on it to practice counting during meals.
At School: In class, kids will compare the length, weight, and volume of two or more objects. They will measure length using small objects, such as paper clips, as units and they will compare, identity, and describe common shapes.
At Home: When cooking, show your child all the numbers on recipes and talk about what they mean as you measure the ingredients. Get a pitcher and a variety of cups and have your child experiment with volume by pouring the same amounts of liquid into different-size cups and different amounts into same-size cups. Have fun with the scale at home and use it to weigh people and objects. Talk about 3-D shapes of objects, such as a tissue box (cube) or ball (sphere), and discuss the different architectural shapes of buildings outside. Examine big and small plates and ask whether they're the same shape. "Shapes can be a lot of fun," Quinn says. "Seeing these as part of their life, not just something taught in school, definitely makes a difference."
At School: Another skill kids will develop further is telling time; first graders will be able to read a clock face to the nearest half hour. They will understand concepts such as "an hour from now," and they will be able to name the days of the week and months of the year. They will also learn to identify different coins, know the value of each one, and combine different amounts (for example, two nickels equal one dime).
At Home: Even if you have a digital clock, find an analog one and point out when the big hand is on the six, or on the 12, and what that means. Look at monthly calendars together, and let your child mark important dates and events. Keep talking about what you did "today" and "yesterday," and what you'll do "tomorrow" or "next week." Play games with coins. Take a pile of spare change and ask your child how many ways he can make 10 cents, 25 cents, or 75 cents.
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