Developmental milestones for first graders

Moving up from kindergarten means big changes. Not so much in physical skills, but in the way kids begin to think and interact with the world. There’s a lot of growth in social and thinking skills in first grade.

Check out these developmental milestones to get a sense of which skills are typical for first graders.

Physical milestones

Most kids gain stamina and coordination during first grade. They may start the year a little uncoordinated, because the big muscles in their arms and legs are better developed than the small muscles they use for smaller movements. What kids can do physically this year doesn’t change as much as how well they’re able to do it.

By the end of first grade, most kids will:

  • Have improved hand-eye coordination for things like tying shoelaces

  • Be able to dance in time with the music — and even add some cool moves like spinning in place without moving from one spot

  • Have handwriting that’s getting neater and easier to read

  • Run, hop, skip, and jump

  • Throw and kick a ball, and catch it with both hands

  • Copy shapes and letters

  • Know how to use utensils the right way (even if they don’t always do it!)

  • May begin playing a musical instrument

  • Ride a bike without training wheels

  • Be capable of doing chores like sweeping or making the bed

  • Tie shoes and button and zip independently

Cognitive milestones

Kids’ thinking skills this year allow them to start exploring the world to find answers to their own questions. During first grade, most kids:

  • Start developing the skills to reason and think logically

  • Try to think about things before making decisions

  • Learn from what they hear and read — not just from what they see and do

  • Have trouble making choices because they want to do everything at once

  • Can read several sight words (words they see frequently and can read without sounding out) and sound out other words

  • Begin to have a better sense of time, understanding increments of time, days, weeks, months, and seasons

  • Predict what comes next in a pattern, and recognize and create their own patterns

  • Count to 100 by ones, twos, fives, and tens

  • Write and recognize the numerals 0 to 100, and the words for numbers from one to twenty

  • Do basic addition and subtraction up to 20

Language milestones

By the start of first grade, kids may use language in long and complicated sentences to talk about the past, present, and future. But this year, they may start combining spoken language with reading and writing. First graders typically:

  • Start sounding out words

  • Understand the relationship between letters and sounds

  • Know, use, and understand thousands of words

  • Stop reversing letters (by the end of first grade)

  • Try to express feelings with words, but may resort to aggression when upset

  • Use words to convince people of their viewpoint and to tell stories

  • Tell jokes and riddles, and may understand simple puns

  • Tell little lies about everyday things

Social and emotional milestones

First-grade social-emotional skills are an interesting mix of independence and an increased need for your attention and approval. By the time they turn 7, kids typically start to understand that friendships aren’t something they can control by themselves. That may make them a little anxious. Many kids also:

  • Are more independent, but less secure (they may want a lot of attention and approval from adults)

  • Form and break friendships easily, and can be critical of other kids

  • Get their feelings hurt more easily and start being very aware of other people’s feelings

  • Are eager to please and want to “be first” and win

  • Understand right from wrong, but look for the loopholes in rules to get what they want

  • Are more aware of how others see them

  • Begin to understand what it means to feel embarrassed

There’s a lot of variation in how quickly kids develop skills throughout first grade. But if a child isn’t doing most of these things by the end of first grade, parents and teachers should talk about what they’re seeing, and what might help.

Parents and caregivers should also share their concerns with their child’s health care provider. If a child needs support in some skill areas, now is a good time to start.

Take a look forward at developmental milestones for second and third graders.

Key takeaways

  • First graders often start using language for new things, like telling jokes or convincing others of their viewpoint.

  • A first grader may seem more independent, but still needs emotional support and approval.

  • If a child isn’t meeting most of the milestones, parents and caregivers should talk with their child’s teacher and health care provider.


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