First Grade: Ready or Not?

— Iowa State University Extension
Updated on Sep 29, 2009

Your child has nearly finished kindergarten and may be ready for first grade. This transition is a more significant shift than one between grades.

Elementary school will present new challenges. The day's activities will be more structured than they were in kindergarten yet there should still be time for spontaneous learning activities. Kindergarten has been a continuation of the learning that has been occurring for children every waking moment of their lives.

Is your child ready for first grade? Barbara Willer of the National Association for the Education of Young Children says, "School readiness is less a set of scores and child traits than a match between the school and the child."

Children are always changing in knowledge, skills, experiences and understanding. Readiness is not something they do or do not have. It is a process of growth and change.

Readiness addresses a child's physical, cognitive, social and emotional development at a particular time. A child's level of readiness in August will be very different from what it is in December, for example. It's OK for children to be at different levels. A child's unique differences should be welcomed and accepted. A group of children will always consist of a variety of capabilities and readiness levels.

The National Association of Elementary School Principals has recommended standards for primary grades which are very similar to those outlined by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The similar recommendations include:

  • Schools should be ready for the child and not expect the child to be ready for the school. Early childhood programs must be based on the ways children learn, not on how adults prefer to teach.
  • Since young children learn best through their senses by doing, learning should be the outcome of hands-on experience, especially play.
  • Children should be assigned to classes as close to the research-based recommended class sizes as possible: ratios of 2 adults:20 children for 3- to 5-year-olds and 2 adults:24 children for 6- to 8-year-olds.
  • Children should be assessed by observation, not tested for success or failure. Letter grades should not be used.
  • Children will learn more quickly if they have actively experienced the process of learning - in other words, if they have been read to, have acted out what they have learned, have touched the objects described, have seen some of the places or people described, and so forth.

Think about the following questions and how your child is progressing. Remember, no child should be expected to accomplish all of these items perfectly before first grade.

Can your child:

  • Be away from you all day without being upset?
  • Pay attention to a short story when it is read and answer questions about it?
  • Create things with paper, colors, scissors, markers and glue? (It is not important to stay in the lines!)
  • Tie a knot, bow or scarf?
  • Repeat simple messages?
  • Remember instructions and carry out two or three tasks after being told once?
  • Put a simple puzzle together?
  • Draw a picture of a person which includes the head, body, arms and legs?
  • Draw or copy shapes?
  • Visit comfortably with people outside the family?
  • Tell his/her phone number, address, birthday?
  • Identify several colors?
  • Try to write or copy letters and numbers?
  • Admit he/she doesn't know or needs help?
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