First Grade Curriculum: What Six and Seven Year Olds Learn in School

kids raising hands in a first grade classroom
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In the United States, the lessons and topics in the first grade school curriculum vary state-by-state. However, there are common themes and subject matter that have been set by state governments, school districts, and national associations to ensure children will meet overall educational standards.

The standardization of the school curriculum was designed to address what students are expected to know and understand by the time they graduate from high school. The core concepts covered in the curriculum work within a larger framework to prepare students for college and career readiness at an internationally competitive level.

Educational Curriculum for First Graders

First graders are typically six or seven years old, with some basic reading knowledge and likely experienced a physical growth spurt since kindergarten. The planned curriculum for this age group has first grade teachers challenging their students to learn more and build on skills introduced in kindergarten. Math concepts become more complex, and science and social studies lessons focus on exploring the world beyond just your family's immediate circles. The core subjects and topics covered include:

Math

First grade is a year to explore and introduce the concrete building blocks of math, which include problem-solving, operations and number sense. Last year, your child may have learned to count with one-to-one correspondence, recognize numerals, and sort into groups. In first grade, your child will continue to build on these concepts using hands-on manipulatives like Cuisenaire rods and snap cubes to more concretely visualize basic addition and subtraction within 20, and reason abstractly and quantitatively by creating and solving story problems involving addition and subtraction.

Your child will be taught to use an analog clock to tell time to the minute, be asked to recognize coins, count money, solve simple mathematical word problems, count, recognize shapes, read and write whole numbers to more than 100 and understand basic place value. Your child will also learn to:

  • Count and group objects in ones and tens
  • Identify one more than, one less than, 10 more than, 10 less than a given number, and learn to use the symbols <, >, and =
  • Compare the length, weight, and volume of two or more objects through comparison

Reading

First grade is the year when students seemingly learn to read overnight. By the time kindergarten is over, your child should be able to recognize her name and some other core words in print. They should also be able to write, recognize and correspond the sound of most of the letters in the alphabet, and, even if they are not reading yet, your child has a good grasp of concepts about print.

In first grade, your child will continue to build phonemic awareness with more complicated sounds like blends and digraphs. They will be taught a number of strategies for decoding words they don't know or is unable to sound out and start to answer questions about the meaning of what's been read. In addition, the first grade curriculum covers:

  • Comprehension of grade-level materials
  • Reading of grade-level material with fluency
  • Retelling a story, including characters and a beginning, middle, and ending
  • Comparing the experiences of characters
  • Identifying similarities and differences between two texts on the same topic
  • Identifying the meaning of words in a variety of texts

Writing

Your child's fine motor skills have improved a great deal since kindergarten, providing the control needed to really begin writing. In the first grade, expect your child to begin formal work on handwriting skills in addition to creative writing tasks. Some teachers will focus on inventive spelling, allowing children to write the sounds they hear in words, while also instructing students using weekly spelling words. Your first grader will learn how to use punctuation and capitals, but, more importantly, they will start to use writing as a tool for communication.

The specific topics covered include:

  • Legibly writing upper and lowercase letters
  • Using capital letters for names and beginning of a sentences
  • How to utilize ending punctuation (period, question mark)
  • Learning to correctly spell and use high-frequency words
  • How to use descriptive words when writing
  • Learning to write narratives with two or more appropriately sequenced events, while including some details, and providing an ending

Science

Like math, science in the first grade focuses on finding patterns, however, the patterns explored are in the natural world. The three units of study covered in this subject are as follows:

  • Life Sciences: Plants and Animals
  • Earth Sciences: Air and Weather
  • Physical Sciences: Solids and Liquids

Your child will spend time learning about plants, insects and their common characteristics and may even follow the life cycle of a butterfly. They will learn about the external features and environments that help plants and animals thrive. The curriculum covers weather patterns, how they contribute to the water cycle, and how the water cycle sustains life. Simple tools such as a thermometer and wind vane to measure weather conditions are introduced. From there, your child will learn that solids, liquids, and gases have different properties.

Other areas of study include learning about the scientific process, such as making and recording observations that include pictures, numbers or written statements.

Social Studies

Expect your child to begin exploring the concept of community beyond just your family. They'll learn about how neighborhoods make up cities, cities make up states and how nations are comprised of states, with a focus on how all of those components work together to create a cohesive unit. For many students, first grade brings a number of field trips to neighborhood businesses, local government and public institutions like the library.

Visual Arts

In first grade, your child will begin to identify line, color, shape, form, and texture as elements of art. They will learn to mix secondary colors from primary colors and describe the process.

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