First grade marks an important milestone for young children who finally feel like part of a “big” school. They may eat in the cafeteria for the first time or play outside during recess without the direct supervision of their own teacher, experiences that help first graders feel more independent. First graders now have to use the social skills they developed in preschool and kindergarten in more mature ways. But the true magic of first grade happens as children develop the ability to understand what letters and numbers really mean. When they’re ready, they’ll be able to “crack the code” and read words.
Language & Literacy
First grade is traditionally thought of as the level where children learn to read. Not all children become fluent readers by the end of the first grade, but most take their first solid steps toward fluid reading. Their reading material varies from simple rhymes, to classroom news, to patterned stories and beginner non-fiction books. By the end of the year, most are reading grade-level chapter books and some are reading at even more advanced levels. First graders love true stories of long ago, even though their sense of time isn’t well developed. Some good historical books include “The Man Who Walked Between Two Towers” by Mordicai Gerstein, “My Brother Martin” by Christine King, and “The Story of Ruby Bridges” by Robert Coles.
First-grade teachers help children listen for sounds in words, write the sounds they hear, and discover parts of written language, like the –at in cat that they can then use to figure out the words hat, mat, and sat.
Writing, like reading, takes a variety of forms in the first-grade classroom. Children “invent” their spellings as they work out their understandings of written language. Writing activities include journal writing, writing creative stories, or documenting their work in other subject areas. Teachers frequently ask children to sound out the words they write to introduce the sounds that letters make.
First graders begin to grasp more abstract mathematical concepts. Children are introduced to time, money, and the meaning of numbers greater than those they can count. Because first graders still learn best by working with physical objects, teachers give children materials to use during math lessons such as number cubes, pattern blocks, and color rods.
First graders start to do simple addition and subtraction problems. They learn to count by 2s, 5s, and 10s, which will help them later when doing math equations. They also work with 2- and 3-dimensional geometric shapes.
Teachers encourage first graders to find their own answers to questions about the natural world, and to learn to find patterns in that world. They may be introduced to concepts that require them to understand more than they can explore concretely, such as living things being made up of small parts. Common science explorations include water and weather, the parts of the human body, and identifying characteristics of plants and animals. Children may also experiment with motion and with how pushing and pulling affects an object.
First-grade social studies is framed by the concrete world of family, school, and neighborhood. First graders can tell the difference between events that happen in the past, present, and future, although they are not ready to match real meanings to different time intervals. Events that happened 20 years ago and 100 years ago are all part of the same “past” time period to a first grader, unless they’re related to things that children are familiar with, like “That was when your grandmother was a baby.”
Socially, first graders are much more independent and responsible for their own actions than they were in kindergarten. Therefore, knowing how to follow rules and take care of themselves becomes important. Becoming self-sufficient enough to navigate through a school’s routine (like finding the classroom or bathroom by themselves) is an important part of first grade. (PBS)