5 Incredible Things You'll Learn in First Grade

First graders will hone reading skills until their curling up with a book independently.
First grade means the true start of a formal education.
Blend Images/Ariel Skelley/Getty Images

Welcome to official schooling! Sure, kindergarten was a big deal, but that's really just an introduction -- one that's still pretty relaxed and play-based. This year, your child is going to get down to work.

A bunch of U.S. states don't actually require school attendance before first grade, so this really is the start of your child's formal education; you're in for some exciting stuff. If you thought your child grew up last year, just wait. Most first graders are 6 or 7 years old when this school year begins, and they're capable of a lot more than they were at 5 or 6. By the end of first grade, you'll have a full-on "big kid" on your hands.


Here, five of the coolest discoveries your child will make this year. The first one probably seems completely intuitive to you, but to your little one it can be a revelation ...

5: There's Just One Me!

In the toddler years, self-knowledge is not much more complex than "I'm hungry," or "I'm tired." An understanding of self develops slowly, bit by bit. In preschool and kindergarten, children begin to develop a sense of who they are and see that other children are different from them.

When they enter the more structured environment of first grade, this burgeoning self-concept starts to explode. Not only are lessons geared toward a broader understanding of the world and the people in it, but simple things like raising hands to speak, not interrupting classmates, and responding to topics from an individual point of view all encourage an understanding of themselves as individuals. Not everyone thinks or acts like they do. Not everyone likes what they like.


Throughout the course of the year, first graders make tremendous progress in respecting the opinions and feelings of others and valuing themselves as unique and capable people. Yours will start to see that he or she has something special to contribute, in class, on the playground and at home.

Next, reading deeper ...

4: I Know What That Means!

First graders will hone reading skills until their curling up with a book independently.
First graders will hone reading skills until they're curling up with a book independently.
Blend Images/The Agency Collection/Getty Images

Kindergarten begins the reading process, and by the start of first grade, most students know their letters and can sound out and recognize a lot of words. Some can even read fluently.

In first grade, reading skills move past simply reading and enter the comprehension zone. Words and sentences are no longer mysterious codes; they're meaningful expressions of thoughts and actions and pictures and sounds.


This year, your child will start to read stories -- real stories -- and talk about them afterward. He or she will consider various events in the story, express opinions about them, and start to look deeper, all the way to "why" and "how" and "what if." You may find your first grader suddenly having a whole lot to say about the bedtime stories you've been reading together since birth.

Next, going beyond the moment ...

3: Time Has So Many Parts!

You've probably developed some innovative ways to explain that dinner isn't for another hour (Is dinner now? Now? How about now?) and that Disney World is happening in a month (No, not yet, it's only been two days). This year, your child will begin to develop a real understanding of time and its complexities.

Until recently, time was mostly the present, and memories were spread out on a plane rather than on a timeline. What happened yesterday and what happened two years ago live in the same general place. The first grade curriculum explores concepts like past, present and future. Years are broken down into months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds, and these expressions of time start to mean something. It becomes clear when dinner is happening -- and that Disney World is still a ways out.


Next, going way beyond counting ...

2: 2 + 2 is 4!

Forget the marbles or wooden blocks! In first grade, you'll learn to add and subtract in your head (or at least with the help of your fingers).
Forget the marbles or wooden blocks! In first grade, you'll learn to add and subtract in your head (or at least with the help of your fingers).
Blend Images/Ariel Skelley/The Agency Collection/Getty Images

If you thought counting to 20 or 30 was a big thing, get ready to be floored. This year, your child is going to come home adding.

First grade students learn that numbers aren't just for counting but are abstract concepts that can help them understand the world. No longer working only with "adding to" and "taking away from" groups of concrete objects, math starts to happen in their heads and apply to pretty much every subject area. Your child will be doing simple addition and subtraction, counting by twos and fives, and starting to develop an understanding that some numbers that are bigger than they can count, or even conceive.


And finally, a lesson you'll be experiencing a lot of (for better or worse) at home ...

1: I'm in Charge!

By first grade, your student will be making decisions and taking charge.
By first grade, your student will be making decisions and taking charge.
Neil Beckerman/The Image Bank/Getty Images

All of the incredible things your child finds out in first grade are part of growing up and interacting with the world on a deeper level, and their combined effect is perhaps the most extraordinary lesson of all: Growing up means deciding for myself.

Not all the time, of course, and you may find yourself battling this realization at bedtime, but it's a stunning development to watch. In first grade, they have more independence than they did last year, and that means making decisions about which story to reach for first, walking down the hall to the bathroom all alone, and bringing home worksheets they need to do at home without the teacher watching.


First grade is so much about a growing sense of self-reliance, and with it, your child develops a greater sense of responsibility for his or her own actions and words. Lessons deal with connected concepts like making choices, taking calculated risks and learning from mistakes.

By the end of this year, your 7 year old will be looking more and more like the person he or she will be as a grown-up, more capable of expressing thoughts and emotions, of dealing with those emotions, and of sitting when he or she really, really wants to stand. With a successful and productive first grade year, children end up with some indispensable tools to deal not only with second grade but also with the diverse, complicated world in which they live.

For more information on first grade, including free worksheets and lesson plans, check out the links on the next page.

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More Great Links

  • First Grade Curriculum. ISS International School. (June 8, 2012) http://www.issschool.com/programs.html
  • First Grade: What Will They Learn? Family Education. (June 5, 2012) http://school.familyeducation.com/elementary-school/assessment/56217.html
  • Grade-by-Grade Learning: 1st Grade. PBS Parents. (June 5, 2012) http://www.pbs.org/parents/goingtoschool/what_1.html
  • How They Grow in First Grade. Family Education. (June 5, 2012) http://life.familyeducation.com/first-grade/child-development/29539.html