If you thought graduations were a big deal just in high school and college, think again. In today’s standards-driven kindergartens, the end of that first year can feel, well, momentous. After all, it was only a few months ago that these newly minted preschool grads were tiptoeing into the room. Now, in June, they know how to start a school day and work in a group. They count things all over the place, and if they’re not already reading, they’re deliciously on the verge. Still, in the face of your kid’s proud new independence, don’t be surprised if you find yourself worrying, too. In just a few months, First Grade will be here...and that means a few changes that may be quite a big deal for your child:

Longer School Day

While some communities offer a “full day” kindergarten, many children still only attend for half the day, and they are accustomed to being home by early afternoon. Not so in first grade, when the children will switch to a schedule that’s more or less the same through fifth grade. Parents, get ready! Expect your child to be tired and perhaps cranky for the first few weeks of school. Reassure yourself and your child: fortunately, teachers are ready for the challenge and most kids will adjust quickly.

More Focus

In first grade, teachers will work hard to help kids expand their capacity to focus. Back in kindergarten, the children most frequently worked in small groups, moving around the room from one activity to the next at short intervals. While first grade will continue this format, but with longer work-times, and there will be more times when the whole class works on one assignment.

Over the summer, it’s tempting to relax those computer-game and TV rules and let mealtimes wander. But do try to maintain some basic routines in your home. Experts agree that one of the best ways to help children learn to focus is to maintain as much consistency and predictability as possible. Finally, try to find at least some time most days when your child focuses on one quiet activity for at least 20 minutes, such as writing a warm, happy letter to Grandma. She’ll be thrilled, and your child will be that much better prepared for first grade, too.

More Small Motor Activities

Back in kindergarten, your child worked almost daily with markers and scissors, and the transition to first grade may be a breeze. But if your child did struggle a bit, summer is a great time to build strength and coordination. Beware: this doesn’t mean forcing your child to sit down with a pen for hours of penmanship. Instead, teachers and occupational therapists emphasize activities that strengthen coordination so that handwriting becomes easier. You don’t need anything fancy; just look around the house.

Veteran kindergarten teacher Cindy Middendorf, of upstate New York, recommends “tweezers, salad tongs, turkey basters, squirt bottles…anything that will strengthen the ‘pincer’ grip of thumb, index, and tall man fingers. You can even teach kids the sign language for the word ‘no’!” Full-body activities like swimming also strengthen core muscles, making it easier for the children to align their bodies, sit and stand properly, and be able to support their arms and legs.

Reading and Math Groups

In many schools, these targeted skills groups now start in kindergarten. But usually they’re arranged around a kindergartener’s attention span, with lots of room for switching between activities. In first grade, teachers will expect children to get more serious. One way you’ll see this is the layout of the room: in first grade, the “house” area of a kindergarten has usually given way to a “library” area where kids are expected to read and work. By the end of the year (don’t worry…not the beginning!) you can expect striking results: children will be expected to sound out words, make sense of new ones from context, and write words in simple sentences with capitalization and punctuation. They’ll also know most addition and subtraction facts between 1 and 20. Kids get there in small, structured academic groups.

So as the summer beckons, what’s the best way to get ready for what’s ahead? For starters, check over that End of Year List for kindergarten…because it’s the same as the “start of year” list for first grade!  Here it is:

Literacy

  • Handle a book, using “concepts of print” such as going through from left to right, front to back.
  • Hold a pencil properly and use scissors to cut along a simple line
  • Write his own name
  • Say and write all or most of the letters of the alphabet (some letters may be scraggly), and most of their sounds
  • Name and label objects
  • Recognize at least 10-15 common “sight” words, such as “is” or “the”
  • Draw a picture and write simple “sound-spelled” words that tell about it

Math

  • Tell you how numbers represent “how many”
  • Count from 1-20 on a number line by ones and by 2s
  • Sort out sets of objects, separate and categorize them.
  • Compare more, less, and same
  • Add simple numbers between 1-10, showing, for example, how 2+2 equals 4 objects
  • Recognize and create patterns, such as AABBCCAABBCC
  • Explain the concept of one-half
  • Know about sequence: yesterday, today, tomorrow, and time to the nearest hour

Science and Social Studies  

  • Observing, describing, sorting, and classifying objects
  • Make simple predictions and evaluate what really happens
  • Compare objects
  • Tell whether something is living or nonliving
  • Identify helpers in the community, such as firefighters
  • Use a simple map, such as for a child’s neighborhood
  • Identify different holidays
  • Understand the reason for school and community rules

Social-Emotional Milestones

  • Handle home-school transitions without serious anxiety
  • Maintain on-task focus on developmentally appropriate challenges, such as readalouds and activity centers, for 15-20 minutes at a time.
  • Behave in ways that are friendly and safe in the classroom and playground
  • Follow the teacher’s classroom rules and directions consistently

If your child is strong in all these areas, that’s fabulous!  But if not, summer can be a good time to practice…as long as you keep the work engaging and low-key. Remember: a major goal of these first years of school is to help children learn to love what they’re doing in school. For engaging, hands-on, standards-supporting activities, try visiting our Activities.