Skills kids need going into first grade

Two children writing on pieces of paper.

At a glance

  • Social skills, like knowing how to take turns, are important in first grade.

  • Understanding numbers and what they stand for is a key skill for first-grade math.

  • Going into first grade, kids often know how to print upper- and lowercase letters.

A lot of learning happens in kindergarten to help kids hit the ground running when they go into first grade. Some of the skills kids need going into first grade are social skills, like listening and taking turns. Others are more academic — the skills kids need to develop as they do more work in reading, writing, and math.

Here’s a sample of what kids should be learning by the end of kindergarten to be ready for first grade.

Literacy skills kids need for first grade

Literacy skills include both reading and writing. The two are taught together because they’re closely connected. In kindergarten, kids practice breaking words into small chunks and identifying the sounds each letter makes. (This is known as decoding.)

That’s because kids going into first grade are expected to know the alphabet and the basic features of letters and words. They’re also typically able to recognize and provide rhyming words. These are all skills that help emerging readers learn new words and read simple books.

When it comes to writing, incoming first graders are expected to be able to write and share information in a variety of ways. This includes drawing, writing letters and words, listening to others, and speaking out loud. To help build these skills for first grade, kids do activities like these:

  • Write and recognize upper- and lowercase letters.
  • Match letters to sounds, make rhymes, and recognize some words without having to sound them out (teachers refer to these as sight words, and some of the first ones kids pick are and, the, and it).
  • Learn and use new words to express thoughts, feelings, and ideas clearly.
  • Ask and answer questions about a story the teacher reads aloud, and talk about the characters, settings, and major events in the story.
  • Name the person, place, thing, or idea in a picture.
  • Follow the rules of conversation by listening and taking turns talking.
  • Give information about an event, topic, or opinion by drawing, talking, and writing about it.
  • Participate in shared reading and writing activities (for example, the teacher reads a big picture book aloud and students take turns sharing ideas about it).

You can help your child build literacy skills at home, too:

Math skills kids need for first grade

There are two big math concepts kids need a strong grasp of as they go into first grade. The first is number sense — learning numbers and what they stand for, like connecting the number “5” with a picture of five apples. The other big one is addition and subtraction. Kindergartners also learn to identify and work with shapes.

Here are some activities kids do to build math skills going into first grade:

  • Count how many objects are in a group (one by one) and compare it to another group to figure out which is greater or less than the other.
  • Recognize that addition means putting two groups together and that subtraction means taking away from one group.
  • Add and subtract numbers 1 through 10.
  • Use objects to show how to break up numbers less than or equal to 10 in more than one way (for example, 8 erasers = 2 groups of 4 erasers, and 8 erasers = a group of 2 and a group of 6).
  • Find the number of objects to make any group of 1 to 9 into a group of 10.
  • Use objects or draw pictures to represent and solve simple addition and subtraction word problems.

You can help your child build math skills at home, too:

Working with your incoming first grader

Take a look at your state’s academic standards to see what skills are expected for kids going into first grade. Not all states use the same standards, but many of them have similar expectations for students.

Keep in mind, too, that kids develop skills at different rates. But if your child doesn’t have most of these skills down by the end of kindergarten, it’s a good idea to check in with your child’s teacher to speak about your concerns. Together you can come up with a plan for keeping track of your child’s progress and getting ready for first grade.

Key takeaways

  • Incoming first graders typically know the alphabet and can add and subtract numbers 1 through 10.

  • There are fun ways to practice language and math skills to help your child get ready for first grade.

  • If you have concerns about your child’s progress, talk to the teacher to come up with a game plan.