It seems like yesterday you were counting pennies, leaves, and gold stars with your first grader. Now she's taking sixth grade math. It's a shock to lots of parents—and kids, too.

Here’s the good news: academic standards are designed to prepare children grade by grade and step by step. If your child has been working steadily through elementary school, sixth grade math will be just one more manageable step. In fact, studies show that when math is well taught, kids this age just love it—after all, it’s a way to discover sense and pattern in the world, and feel pretty darn smart in the process.

So what can you expect? Since states are allowed to choose their own standards under No Child Left Behind, there may be some variation. For specific details, remember to consult your state’s academic standards on the department of education website. It’s also wise to ask your school to show you its frameworks and texts, so that you can see exactly how the standards will be covered during the year.

In general, however, you can expect these themes in sixth grade math:

What should my child already know?

As a general rule, teachers hope that by the end of fifth grade students will have a very solid working knowledge of all four “operations”—addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division—along with fractions, simple percentages, decimals, and basic graphing. At a minimum, they should also know about basic formulas for perimeter, area, and geometrical shapes.

What should my child learn in this grade?

Number Sense: This builds directly on the basic skills of elementary school—addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, and decimals—but now more complex. Talk about these computations with your child: How does a fraction translate into decimals? Why do we call multiplication and division “inverse operations”? This is also the time when many teachers start to introduce negative numbers, which can be tricky. You can help with real-life situations, like “Yes, you can borrow \$10 from me to afford that toy, but that means your account will go down to negative \$10.”

Algebra: Once upon a time, this topic was covered in ninth grade. Nowadays, more and more states are urging schools to teach beginning algebra to all eighth graders to leave more time in high school for advanced topics. So don’t be shocked: in sixth grade, many schools now teach kids basic ideas of algebra. Try talking with your child in real life terms. For example, “We have a five mile trip to the store for those cool shoes you want. We’ll travel about fifteen miles an hour. How fast will we get there?” Your child’s mind may be on shoes, but the thinking process is algebraic.

Geometry: Angles, quadrilaterals, volume? Bring it on. Don’t be surprised to see your sixth grader finding the area of a three-dimensional shape. For many kids, geometrical thinking is a highlight of middle school math. This part of the curriculum easily lends itself to hands-on exploration, and ties beautifully with art as well.

Statistics and Probability: At this stage, kids will see simple problems in coin tossing, die rolling, etc... Sports nuts will be truly delighted by natural ties to professional ballgames.

Reasoning, Problem solving, and Connections: For math teachers, these are really the highest goals of mathematics education. Is it important to get the “right” answer to a problem? Sure. But, say math teachers, it’s even more crucial to know that you can think your way to that answer—sometimes two or three different ways—again and again.

Sound challenging? Math teachers hope so…but they also work hard to make it achievable, too. The world around us is packed with math, whether it’s figuring tax, making budgets, determining spending. This is a perfect time for your young citizen to put these lessons together. With your steady support, you may be amazed by what your child is ready to take on.