With each new school year comes an unfamiliar teacher, expanding academics, new expectations and eye-opening experiences. The excitement can be dizzying for a soon-to-be second-grader, especially in the first days and weeks of that big-kid world.
To be expected, of course. Change isn't simple, whether you're 7 or 70. Luckily, many U.S. school districts put you in a perfect position to help. It's called summer break, and you can use it to help make your child's transition from first to second a smooth one.
No, you won't be teaching summer school -- or at least not that kind of summer school. But you can brush up on first-grade skills, and introduce a few new ones, without your child missing out on any of that well-earned summer fun. Think of it as hiding the veggies in something your child will actually eat, but without the pureeing.
The key is to keep it play-based; just because second grade will be more traditionally academic doesn't mean summer learning has to be. With some creativity (and much less time than you think), these months can be like a second-grade-preparatory extravaganza.
Here, some activity ideas to get you started and inspire your inner cool teacher. They can help bridge the gap between this year and last, readdress skills your child might have struggled with in first grade and make the opening weeks of second grade feel a lot more comfortable.
To begin the learning fun, try putting on a show!
Fun with Language
Second grade is a big year for language and literacy development. The typical first-grader, if there is one, finished the year with some formidable skills, such as the ability to read and write most simple words, possibly with some effort; recognize lots of common words on sight; and tell time to the nearest half- or quarter-hour.
This year, language skills will expand to include reading with increased fluency and speed, and "sight words" will become less of a focus as reading replaces recognition. Your child's vocabulary will begin to grow by leaps and bounds.
So let's have fun with that:
Do you have an actor on your hands? If so, put that talent to good use. On a rainy afternoon, sit down at the kitchen table and write a (very) short play together, with your child doing most of the writing. Next, run lines until the star can read his or hers fluently, involving other family members if the script calls for it. Then, act it out! The show can be an intimate event, of course, but you can make it even more exciting by inviting over some friends and family to watch the play.
Use That Word!
Vocabulary practice doesn't have to mean flash cards. Word-a-day calendars can be so much fun, and sometimes downright funny, and there's no rule against kids having some million-dollar words in their repertoire. So find a fun one, and put it right where your child will see it first thing in the morning. Each day, let your child turn the page and add a brand-new entry to that growing vocabulary. Get the whole family involved, and see who can use the word the most -- correctly, of course -- with a running tally through the day. Winner picks tomorrow night's dinner!
Reading Road Trip!
Remember Punch Buggy? Or maybe you know it as Slug Bug? Well, this game will be kind of like that. But with no punching. And with words instead of VW Bugs. But other than that, it's the same, and it's ideal for those long summer drives. Decide together on a transportation-related word before heading out in the car, probably one that's at least somewhat familiar (like "stop" or "car" or "exit"), and bring along paper and pencil for scoring. Each time either of you spots that word, you call it out, and your child makes a tally mark. Winner gets an ice-cream cone! And so does runner-up!
Next, making good use of all those tally marks ...
Fun with Numbers
As with reading and writing, math gets more mature in second grade. Last year, numbers became less mysterious, with single-digit calculations and counting by 2s and 5s, and the idea of time became both more and less complex. This year, addition and subtraction go double-digit, word problems are tackled using reasoning skills and the concepts of multiplication and division are introduced. Time-telling is more precise, and measurement and graphing make their way into the curriculum.
Some fun ways to head happily into second-grade math:
Take Those Tallies Further!
You know those tallies from your modified Punch Buggy and word-of-the-day games? Don't throw them out! Graphing is an important second-grade skill, and those score cards are perfect fodder. Break that car ride down into hours, and make a bar graph showing how many words each of you spotted in each hour. Play "Use That Word!" for a week and then graph the number of wins each family member racked up over seven days. These types of projects are also great for exploring patterns and posing hypotheses: Judging from this month's graphs, who do you think will win next month?
Is It Time to Go?
Turn "Is it time yet? Is it time yet? Is it time yet?" to your advantage by putting the ball in your little one's court. Together, set a time for a fun outing, at least as specific as the quarter-hour but maybe even down to the minute, depending on skill level. Then, leave it up to your child to let you know when it's time to go!
...or cupcakes or pancakes or peanut-butter squares. Any kind of baking offers the perfect forum for practicing some math skills. You can sneak in all sorts of number lessons. If we need 2 cups of flour, how full should we make the 4-cup measure? If the recipe calls for two chocolate drops on each cookie, and we have three cookies on the sheet, how many drops do we need? The recipe calls for 12 minutes in the oven, but we should check them halfway through -- how long should we wait? Oops, I ate three of the cookies we baked -- how many do we have left?
Let your child take the lead whenever possible here, because baking can also address a different side of second grade ...
Fun with Responsibility (Really!)
Second grade is reading and writing and arithmetic; it's general exploration of science and music and cultures. It's also, however, about personal development, and that underlying piece of the curriculum runs through every subject area.
This year, your child will learn to be more independent, self-reliant and responsible than ever before, and your help is positively required for this lesson. And while "responsibility" in school might be a little boring (or not), you can make it part of the fun this summer at home.
Doubtful? Try out one of these:
Sell Some Lemonade
Put those cooking math projects to entrepreneurial use with a neighborhood lemonade stand! (Or bake sale or veggies-from-our-garden sale -- you get the idea.) Help your child make the drinks (with him or her doing the measuring, of course), carry the table to the driveway and lug the ice, and then, stand back. After first grade, your budding business owner can tell the difference between the various types of currency, so taking a quarter a cup is entirely within his or her range. And if you step in to help make change, be sure to play a supporting role: "Four quarters make a dollar" is fantastic second-grade prep.
Throw a Yard Sale
Don't get much daily foot traffic where you live? Bring the customers to the lemonade with a yard sale! It's a perfect way for kids to help with the endeavor, and playing a responsible part in the sale will be exciting for your 7-year-old. Another great yard sale role? A kids' table, where everything is a dime and your child is in charge.
Start an Allowance
If you haven't yet instituted a weekly allowance for chores, now would be a great time to do so. Drying the dishes, walking the dog and putting all the toys away at the end of the day are worthwhile tasks. And while those tasks may not be much fun, going to the dollar store on Saturday so your child can buy whatever he or she wants with his or her own week's earnings (or rather half of them, with the rest set aside for a rainy day) will be a joy. You may even find yourself with a true saver on your hands who'd rather hit the toy store once a month!
Allowances and theater productions and following simple recipes may not seem very school-like, but that's the point. Summer fun can be the setting for all sorts of lessons your child can carry confidently into second grade, and getting there is easy: Grab a few ideas, adapt them to your family and your child's specific needs, and tap into the same creative streak that gets your kid to eat the broccoli. You'll probably find second-grade prep to be easier than the broccoli.
For more information on second grade, school curriculum and age-based summer fun, check out the links on the next page.
In talking about what students have learned by the end of first grade, it's tough to cover all of the possibilities. To that effect, you'll notice I used a lot of qualifiers -- "possibly mastered," or "perhaps with some effort." It's a reality that some students enter second grade with stunning reading skills, and others are still stumbling a bit, and there's nothing strange about either ability level. I hope you'll take my discussions of what they know, what they'll learn and how they'll transition from first to second grade as guidelines, not absolutes. Your child's teachers are the best ones to tell you if your child needs extra challenges or extra help.
- First grade: What your child should know. Great Schools. (June 18, 2012) http://www.greatschools.org/students/academic-skills/1208-first-grade-benchmarks.gs
- Gisler, Peggy and Marge Eberts. "Summer Learning That Isn't Math or Reading." Family Education. (June 18, 2012) http://school.familyeducation.com/gifted-education/extracurricular-activities/41148.html
- Myers, Miriam. "Preparing for Second Grade." Great Schools. (June 18, 2012) http://www.greatschools.org/students/academic-skills/275-preparing-for-second-grade.gs
- Second-Grade Learning Games and Activities. Great Schools. (June 18, 2012) http://www.greatschools.org/students/activities/300-second-grade-learning-games-and-activities.gs