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Tips for Starting School: What Do You Learn in First Grade?

Tips for Starting School: What Do You Learn in First Grade?
Is your little one starting first grade this year? It’s a big step, especially if this is your first child to head out the door and hop on the school bus. It’ll be tough to tell who’s more excited or nervous: you or your child. However, there’s so much more to this momentous occasion than that exciting first day. There’s a lot you can do ahead of time and even during the year to help prepare your child and set them up for success — because success doesn’t happen by accident. You plan for it! To help your child put their best foot forward on this crucial step in their journey, we’ve pulled together this quick guide. We'll talk first-grade skills, tips, supplies and so much more. Most importantly of all, we want to talk about the most common things your child will be learning about this year, so that you’ll know what to expect and will be prepared to help guide them along the way. After all, it’s been a long time since any of us were in first grade. We could all use the refresher.

Things Kids Learn in First Grade

Nobody expects kids to start learning rocket science in first grade. Instead, this year is spent building a solid foundation in basic concepts and simple ideas. Every subsequent year of schooling will build on this foundation, which means it’s critical that this base layer is solid. Wondering what exactly to expect in first grade? Here are a few of the broad strokes to keep an eye out for as your child progresses through the year, broken down into categories

Language and Literacy

While your kid won’t be reading Hemingway by the end of the year, this will be an extremely important year as your child begins to develop an understanding of language and words as a way to express themselves. A few of the specific things your child will likely learn in this category include:
  • Writing Their Own Name: This may be something your child learned before attending first grade. If not, they’ll certainly learn this by the time the year is up.
  • Sounds and Letters: Most kids will already know the alphabet by first grade. If not, however, they will learn this in addition to continuing to work on different blends of sounds.
  • Simple Words: Kids will learn simple words, typically in groups with similar sounds like “rat”, “bat”, “cat” and so on. Emphasis will be placed on sounding words out through recognizing familiar patterns and concepts.
  • Sight Words: Your child’s arsenal of sight words will be expanded, including commonly used words that cannot be sounded out, such as “the,” “there” and so on.
sentence writing in first grade
  • Sentence Writing: Children will begin incorporating the words they know to form short sentences. Often, the correct spelling is not a significant focus in first grade. Instead, it's about encouraging enthusiasm and confidence.
  • Handwriting: Handwriting is often addressed at this age, especially in terms of teaching kids the correct way to form letters, the right way to hold a pencil and more.
  • Grammar: While your child won't get into the finer points of grammar at this level, they will begin learning how to form plurals, along with correct capitalization and some punctuation.
  • Reading Comprehension: Teachers will read books aloud to students and begin to stress reading comprehension. Students may be asked to answer questions about who the main character is, what is happening in the story and other basic understanding questions.
  • Independent Reading: Kids may begin reading early reader books on their own, which usually consist of small words, simple sentence constructions and basic plots and characters.


At this age, many kids find that math is fun. Math lessons may center around brightly-colored shapes and counting objects. Tools like these help keep the ideas exciting and applicable, which keep children more engaged and interested in the lessons:
  • Numbers up to 100: Kids will learn to recognize and write numbers one through 100. While most kids probably won’t be expected to count the entire way, they will be expected to understand how numbers follow one another sequentially, and they may be expected to count to 100 by 5s, 10s, 20s and so on.
  • Addition and Subtraction: Children should begin to be able to do basic addition and subtraction problems. These will usually involve low numbers and be fairly simple. Concepts may be reinforced with the ideas of counters and other tools.
  • Symbol Recognition and Understanding: Basic symbols such as “+,” “-,” “=,” “<” and “>” will be introduced, and kids will learn to identify what they mean. They’ll learn how to understand concepts like adding, subtracting, greater than, less than and equals.
starting to learn pattern recognition
  • Pattern Recognition: Students will learn how to understand and recognize simple patterns. This may be done with numbers, colors, shapes or plenty of other tools.
  • Money: Kids will start learning the different values of money as well as how to add these values together. Students will begin to understand ideas such as the fact that five pennies equal one nickel, two nickels equal one dime and so on.
  • Measurements: Kids will begin to work with ideas like weight and measurements. Rulers, scales and other tools can help kids understand these concepts.
  • Time: Students will learn how to tell time on analog clocks, and addition and subtraction may be used to help reinforce these concepts as well.
  • Simple Fractions: Most fraction work will start in later years, but the basic idea of fractions begins here. Your child will start learning about simple fractions, such as ½ and ¼, likely through the use of visual aids and counters.


First-grade science is first and foremost about teaching kids about the world around them, as well as helping them understand the way they interact with the world and the way their own bodies work. This can be a fun subject because it taps into many young children’s natural curiosity and desire to learn why things are the way they are. A few of the concepts you can expect your child to learn about include:
  • The Five Senses: Students will learn they have five different senses that let them experience the world around them.
  • Animal Identification: Most young children can identify common animals like dogs, cats, horses, dinosaurs and so on. In first grade, more animals are introduced as well as broad classification systems such as mammals, reptiles, marine and more.
learning life cycles in first grade
  • Life Cycles: A basic concept your child may encounter is the idea of life cycles. Children will learn that animals and humans alike begin as babies, grow into children and eventually grow into adults who have more children before entering old age.
  • The Human Body: In-depth concepts will not be covered, but students will likely learn about different parts of the body and may be fascinated by ideas like bones and other inner workings of the body.
  • Living Things: Kids will learn that some things that don’t appear to be alive, like trees, grass and flowers are actually living things, while rocks aren’t. Teachers will explain the fundamental elements necessary to sustain life, such as sunlight, water, nutrients and more. Classrooms may even have projects and experiments where children plant seeds and watch them grow into seedlings.

Social Studies

In-depth history and geography are not necessary at this age, meaning that social studies will likely not be a large focus during first grade. Despite this, however, there are likely a few concepts that will be introduced and covered, as a means of teaching your child more about the world they exist in:
  • Maps: The idea of maps will likely be introduced, although not with any real focus in identifying places. Children will learn to find the United States on a map, or perhaps their state within the U.S. They may learn about continents and oceans as well.
  • History: Kids will likely learn basic ideas in history, such as who the president is. They may also learn entertaining and engaging stories throughout history.

Tips for Starting First Grade

The idea of sending your child off to their first year of “big kid” school can be a little scary for you as a parent. But there are plenty of ways to ease this fear and make you as excited about first grade as your child is. One of the best things you can do is ensure your child is ready for this big step. With that goal in mind, here are a few of our best tips for getting your kid ready for first grade. Think of this as a first-grade skills checklist of sorts — if you can nurture these skills and interests in your child, you’ll be sure to set them off on the right path:

1. Establish Some Rules A big part of first grade is dedicated to learning social skills and how to behave in a school setting. Kids are expected to follow directions, play nicely with other kids and be respectful to their teacher. As you’re getting your child ready for school, make sure they understand how rules and boundaries work, as well as how to interact with other kids their own age. If you’ve never been one to impose many rules on your child, it might be a good time to introduce this concept, so your child is comfortable with it before starting school.

2. Read With Your Child Reading with your child — both by reading harder books aloud to them and helping them read easy books — will give them a huge jump-start when it comes to school. Not only will this give them a greater knowledge of reading and letters as a whole, but it will also teach them that reading is something fun and exciting. It will make them interested to learn more about reading, and show them that it can be an enjoyable pastime.

3. Encourage Curiosity When it comes to first grade, a large part of your child’s experience will simply involve learning about the world around them and all the ways they can interact with it. From counting and reading to watching the clouds and pointing out rivers on a map, these are all things that can be exciting and interesting to kids.

encourage curiosity and positivity in your child

If you want your child to succeed in first grade, one of the best things you can do is encourage their natural curiosity. Answer their questions, no matter how crazy they are, and teach them to be curious about everything.

School Supplies for First Grade

For your child to truly thrive and get the most they can out of first grade, they’ll need to come prepared with all the right tools and supplies. Need some help with that? Run through this quick checklist of things to buy for your first grader:
  • Ball-Point Pens: Any brand you like will work just fine. If you choose a box of bright colors, you might also win bonus points with your child.
  • Washable Markers: Trust us on this — you definitely want the washable kind. Mistakes happen.
  • Pencils: Don’t forget to get a pencil sharpener to go along with these. You may even want to buy extra erasers as well.
  • Glue Sticks: Glue sticks are ideal for art projects and general fun. Elmer’s is one of the most trusted and reliable brands out there, and it's one we recommend.
  • School Glue: If the project is bigger and glue sticks won’t quite do the trick, it’s good to have a bottle of school glue on hand.
  • Construction Paper: For everything from art projects to doodles and more, construction paper is one thing you’ll want to have well-stocked. Make sure to get a wide range of colors for every occasion.
  • Spiral Notebooks: Wide-rule is best, especially as your child is just beginning to get the hang of writing and will likely be forming large, careful letters.
  • Ruler: Opt for a 12-inch ruler with metric units on one side and standard units on the other.
  • Scissors: Scissors are essential for lots of projects. If you’re concerned about safety, opt for the blunted child’s scissors you can find at plenty of crafting or school supply stores.
  • Supply Case or Pencil Case: This isn’t essential, but it gives your child a handy place to keep all their pencils, pens, scissors, rulers and more contained in one easy-to-find place.
  • Backpack: If your child is feeling unenthusiastic about school supplies, why not let them pick out a backpack in their favorite color or with their favorite character on it?
invest in a reusable water bottle
  • Water Bottle: Rather than using a plastic, disposable water bottle every day, invest in a reusable water bottle for a less expensive and more environmentally-friendly alternative.
  • Planner: It’s never too early to start teaching your child about the importance of organization. Start them off as early as first grade with a planner, and spend a bit of time teaching them how to use it. By instilling these good habits in your kids at an early age, they’ll be more likely to carry them on through the rest of their school years. This will set them up for success not only this year, but for all the years to come.

Shop Student Planners Today

Here at Success by Design, our student planners come in a range of fun designs and colors that are sure to appeal to your first grader. Inside, you’ll find calendars, space to take notes, write down assignments and so much more. Shop our entire selection of student planners today and help your first grader take their first steps toward success.

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