The jump from kindergarten to first grade is a big one. Last year, your child was probably engaged primarily in play-based learning, with assessment being pretty loose and subjective. This year, learning will be far more formal, and your child may even receive letter grades.
Children, like adults, are more comfortable with what they know, and first grade can be a little jarring for some. The sudden introduction of unfamiliar skills, demands and responsibilities can shake the academic confidence they developed in kindergarten.
But don't worry, you can help. Here, a few of the ways you can bolster your child's education, both academic and emotional, to help make the experience a successful (and fun!) one. It's easy enough to be your child's out-of-school teacher -- you've been doing it for years. Now, with a bit of first-grade focus, your own "lesson plans" can give your child a real leg up in this new world.
First, you'll want to get your timing right ...
Get a Head Start
It should come as no surprise that children who've seen the first-grade curriculum before have a better chance of picking it up easily, so one of the best things you can do for your child is to introduce some of the material over the summer, before school even starts.
Find out who your child's teacher will be, and talk to him or her about what your child will be learning next year, along with what skills are expected from day one, since touching on both kindergarten skills and first-grade ones can ease the transition. Addressing some of the old and new reading, writing and math concepts, in particular, can give your child a real boost come show time.
Don't forget to make it fun, though -- it is summer, after all. Games, contests and play-guided lessons will hold your child's interest much better than strictly academic ones.
Next, because familiarity is your child's friend ...
Read, Read and Read
You know how your child can recite the best parts of the stories you read most? Well, the connection between exposure and learning applies to reading and writing, too.
Variety is great, but familiarity makes new experiences a lot less scary. So choose a few of your child's favorite books, and read them over and over. Focus any spelling and writing practice on the words in those books, rather than on ones your child hasn't seen before. Read a familiar sentence, and then have your child read it. Ask your child to pick a single word on a page and read it, write it and talk about what it means.
Even recognizing words by sight (as opposed to reading them) can encourage first-grade reading and writing success, since that recognition will make it easier to place new sounds and letter combinations in familiar context.
Next, regarding emotional development ...
First grade isn't just about reading and writing and math; it's also about self-sufficiency. At this stage in development, children are learning what they're capable of: that they can think and act independently, take care of their own needs and wants, and make decisions about what they do and how they do it.
Your child is doing and thinking for him- or herself every day at school, and it's important to continue the theme at home. The more you encourage independence, including taking risks and learning from mistakes, the more confident and capable he or she will be at school, where, most likely, the teacher is expecting a higher degree of self-reliance than your child has experienced before.
Whenever a safe opportunity arises, let your child act independently. If there's a new task to accomplish, wait as long as possible before stepping in to help, and always reward the effort, not just the success. Reinforcing the "You can do it" approach at home will help your child be more comfortable with his or her new responsibilities at school.
Next, a decision that should definitely remain with you ...
Send Them off Right
You probably know that hungry kids have a harder time in school, but the food-learning connection goes beyond growling tummies drowning out math. What your child eats affects how well he or she performs in school.
Studies show that deficiencies in certain nutrients and food groups, including essential vitamins, minerals, calcium and healthy proteins results in a reduced ability to pick up and store information, focus, and just generally thrive in academics, as does an excess of saturated fats, sodium and refined sugar [source: Chen].
To feed your child's first-grade brain, choose nutritious foods for breakfast before school and make sure lunch is healthy and well-balanced, whether you pack it or the cafeteria does the cooking. Lean proteins (like eggs, chicken or fish), fruits, vegetables and whole grains (not white bread!) are the essentials.
And finally, one of the core values of good parenting, first-grade style ...
Most parents experience at least a small degree of relief when it's time for elementary school -- there's no limit to the tasks that must be accomplished in a day, and all those at-school hours mean more time for mommy and daddy's to-do lists.
But remember, being involved in your child's school life is as important as being involved in his or her home life. One of the best ways to help your child succeed in first grade -- and any grade -- is to communicate with the teacher, staying aware of what's going on in class and how your child is progressing. Knowledge of what your first-grade student is doing will not only give you clues about new supplemental activities you can introduce on at home, but will also let you know quickly if there are delays in mastering a specific skill. At such an early age, and especially when it comes to learning to read, a major delay can prove devastating to academic progress.
So talk to the teacher, look through your child's backpack every day after school, and know which lessons your child is focusing on at what time. Being involved and aware will lead you easily to all of the other ways you can help your child thrive this year -- and next year, and the year after that.
For more information on first grade, child development and related topics, check out the links on the next page.
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Author's Note: 5 Ways You Can Help Your Child Succeed in First Grade
Writing about any topic related to child development can be tricky. The tremendous range in timing between children can make a discussion of age-based skills less concrete than many parents might hope for -- even the age range of first graders can vary by as much as two years. When the goal, though, is to provide insight, you don't want to hedge and haw. In lieu, then, of posting a disclaimer on each page, my hope is that parents will approach any skill-to-age correlations in this article as flexible. What one child masters in first grade, another might learn in kindergarten or second grade.
More Great Links
- Chen, Grace. "How Diet and Nutrition Impact a Child's Learning Ability." Public School Review. June 20, 2008. (June 14, 2012). http://www.publicschoolreview.com/articles/28
- Gisler, Peggy, Ed.S. and Marge Eberts, Ed.S. "Top 10 Ways to Improve Reading Skills." Family Education. (June 5, 2012) http://school.familyeducation.com/top-10-ways/improve-reading-skills/38329.html
- Grade-by-Grade Learning: 1st Grade. PBS Parents. (June 5, 2012) http://www.pbs.org/parents/goingtoschool/what_1.html
- Schwartzberg, Ann Becker. "First Grade Reading for Your Child." Scholastic. (June 5, 2012) http://www.scholastic.com/resources/article/first-grade-reading/