Skills and Subjects First-Grade Students Learn

first grade class students raising hands smiling
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First grade is all about expanding upon developing skills your child may have picked up in kindergarten and preschool. Your first grader will gain more control over their own body and impulses and will expand their understanding of the world around him. They will also become more independent, even beginning to earnestly read on their own.

Many first grade lessons plans will place increasing emphasis on the academic—first-grade reading, math, spelling, and so on—and many first graders will begin to get increasingly more difficult homework than they did in kindergarten.

In many classrooms, the saying, "Kindergarten is the new first grade, and first grade is the new second grade" will often apply, with first graders being expected to handle more difficult verbal and math lessons, become skilled at taking achievement tests, and spending less time on things that were more common in previous generations in the early grades like art, music, dance, development of social skills, and even physical education and recess.

What Parents Should Watch out for in First Graders

Parents may want to watch for signs of anxiety and stress, and indications that children are being overwhelmed by the amount or difficulty level of homework assignments.

Research has shown that kids today are being given more homework than they should be getting, particularly in the early grades.

If you spot a problem, talk to your child's teacher. Your child's love of learning and discovery happens in these early school years, and it's important that you work with educators as well as your child to find a good balance and help your child tap into and maintain their enthusiasm for school and learning.

Skills and Subjects for First-Grade Students

Each school and classroom can have different lessons plans, objectives, and expectations, but in general, here is an overview of what you can expect to see in first grade.

First-Grade Social Skills

  • Become even more adept at paying attention, following instructions, and speaking one at a time.
  • Learn how to work together with classmates on a group project.
  • Ability to ask questions among peers to clear up any confusion.
  • Gain more confidence in expressing opinions and sharing stories, such as during morning meetings.

First-Grade Reading and Writing

  • Read books in small groups with a teacher.
  • Practice independent reading.
  • Be able to identify ideas and details of a story, and be able to retell events of a story in order.
  • Learn words with similar patterns (such as "bat," "sat," and "cat").
  • Become more skilled at using sounds of letters to read simple words.
  • Expand their list of "sight words" (words that are frequently used).
  • Learn how to organize their thoughts through writing.
  • Work on handwriting all upper and lowercase letters.
  • Write simple words and sentences (often still without emphasis on correct spelling); use two or three sentences to create stories.
  • Learn how to correctly use punctuation and capitalization in sentences.
  • Understand and learn common, proper, and possessive nouns as well as personal, possessive, and indefinite pronouns.

First-Grade Math

  • Count to 120 by groups of small numbers such as 2s, 5s, and 10s. Be able to recognize and write numbers up to 120.
  • Understand concepts such as "equal to" or "greater than" as well as addition and subtraction; become familiar with symbols such as "+," "-," "=," "<," ">."
  • Add and subtract numbers up to 20 in their head.
  • Work with coins and add sums.
  • Identify simple patterns.
  • Learn how to measure sums such as length, weight.
  • Understand and identify simple fractions (1/2, 1/3, 1/4).
  • Learn how to tell time on an analog clock.

First-Grade Science and Social Studies

  • Gain a better understanding of the senses.
  • Identify animals and classify them into groups (marine, mammals, etc.).
  • Learn about oceans and sea life.
  • Learn about life cycles.
  • Identify the United States and learn about continents and oceans.
  • Understand what living things need to grow.
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  1. Grills-Taquechel AE, Fletcher JM, Vaughn SR, Stuebing KK. Anxiety and Reading Difficulties in Early Elementary School: Evidence for Unidirectional- or Bi-Directional Relations? Child Psychiatry Hum Dev. 2012;43(1):35-47. doi:10.1007/s10578-011-0246-1

  2. Pressman RM, Sugarman DB, Nemon ML, Desjarlais J, Owens JA, Schettini-Evans A. Homework and Family Stress: With Consideration of Parents’ Self Confidence, Educational Level, and Cultural BackgroundAmerican J Fam Ther. 2015;43(4):297-313. doi:10.1080/01926187.2015.1061407

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