See what educational milestones your child will master in first grade, and learn how to help him achieve them at home.

By Mary Harvey
Updated October 23, 2019

By the time she reaches first grade, your child begins absorbing new material like a sponge. She understands at least 20,000 words, has some impressive spelling skills, and senses how words and language work. In math, she's getting faster by the week at adding and subtracting, and she's learning to solve word problems

Despite these accomplishments, though, 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. First graders can also 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 the first grade curriculum, with tips for helping your kid stay on track.

First Grade Reading

First graders will be able to read at least 150 high-frequency words ("sight words") by year's end. They’ll also read grade-level books fluently and understand them.

Helping at Home

Give your budding bookworm plenty of opportunities to read aloud, at a level appropriate for the age of first grade students. Have him read you a short story while you're cooking, for example, or give him the important job of reading to his younger sibling. 

Take turns reading the pages, helping 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.

First Grade Writing

In the first grade curriculum, 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. She’ll also write a basic short stories—perhaps about losing a tooth or riding a bike. Be prepared to help her study some first grade spelling words!

Helping at Home

Have your child keep a notebook at home, Quinn says, because first grade students love to write lists and notes to friends. This writing won't be graded, so your child should have fun with it. Encourage her to draw pictures and write without correcting spelling or grammar. 

Also feel free to give your child fun writing prompts. After you visit the park, for example, ask her to describe 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.

Number Sense in First Grade

By the end of the year, your child will 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 can 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.

Helping at Home

Help your first grader understand the importance of math in  everyday life. When you go grocery shopping, discuss 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 to practice counting during meals.

Measurement and Geometry in First Grade

As part of the first grade curriculum, kids will compare the length, weight, and volume of objects. They’ll measure length using small things, such as paper clips or pencils. Finally, teachers will explain how to compare, identity, and describe common shapes.

Helping at Home

When cooking, show your child the numbers on recipes and talk about what they mean as you measure ingredients. Grab a pitcher and a variety of cups, and 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. 

Encourage your first grade student to 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.. "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."

Time and Money in First Grade

First grade focuses on telling time; students will be able to read a clock face to the nearest half hour. They’ll understand concepts such as "an hour from now," and they’ll name the days of the week and months of the year. Finally, your first grader will learn to identify different coins, understand the value of each one, and combine different amounts (for example, two nickels equals one dime).

Helping at Home

Find analog clock and track the big hand each hour. 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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