Children make big social and academic advancements each year, and it's a good idea to know what to anticipate. Because standards vary from state to state, and even school to school, it's best to connect with your child's school to find out exactly what their expectations are upfront.

There are, however, a number of skills that teachers across the country will generally look for in students entering new grades. Find out what teachers and development experts have to say about students transitioning into kindergarten, first grade and beyond.

Transitioning to Kindergarten Children enter kindergarten with varying degrees of previous academic experience—some attend preschool from a young age, while others may have never stepped foot in a classroom. "We don’t necessarily require that kids have certain skills when they enter kindergarten," says Lisa Meiling, a kindergarten teacher in Portland, OR. "It becomes the teacher’s responsibility to teach the children what they should know." In general, this might include: 

  • Pre-reading skills--an understanding of the alphabet, being able to retell a story in sequence, creating a story on their own, and identifying characters.
  • Early math--counting, number recognition, and recognizing basic shapes.
  • Independence-- children should be able to adjust to being away from parents and caregivers and show some responsibility for their backpacks, lunchboxes and possessions.
  • Language skills-- the ability to express themselves, identify objects by name, and ask questions of others. "Children shouldn't have trouble completing tasks like asking a classmate for a crayon," says Bari Brower, a kindergarten and first grade teacher in Bronx, NY. "Teachers expect children to have some, if not well defined verbal skills by age five."
  • Social skills-- the ability to follow simple directions, sit still while paying attention to the teacher, take care of personal needs, and solve problems.

"If a child is put in a classroom with 20 plus students, he should be able to exhibit some problem solving skills," says Teresa Bergen, a kindergarten teacher from Hamilton, OH. This way "he can deal with issues that come up on his own and the focus of the instruction can then be on academics."

Transitioning to First Grade

Moving into first grade requires children build on the skills they learned in kindergarten. Additionally, kids need to be physically ready for a full day of school. This is one of the biggest transitions kids make when entering first grade, says Liz Hletko, Ph.D., a child psychiatrist in Skokie, IL. "You want to make sure your child can physically tolerate staying at school until three o'clock in the afternoon or later." Additionally you should expect:

  • Homework-- a small amount of homework may be introduced this year so kids need to be able to complete the work and bring it back to school.
  • Reading skills-- "For children to really excel, parents must make a commitment to read aloud to their children every night and also have their children read to them," says Sara Lise Rafe, a former first grade teacher and education consultant in New York, NY.
  • Writing skills-- handwriting should be legible, grammar and punctuation may be introduced along with different types of texts including non-fiction, poetry, and more.
  • Math skills-- the ideas of money, addition and subtraction, and telling time.
  • Communication-- "The child is now supposed to be the conduit of information between school and home," says Liz "There's no note pinned to kid anymore—if your child can't communicate what happened during the day it's more of a concern during first grade than it is in kindergarten."
  • Developed social skills-- being able to jump right in to play with other children, introducing themselves and making friends are all important this year.

"In kindergarten there is a lot of hand holding to help children," says Liz. "In first grade, the teacher becomes much more focused on academics."

Transitioning to Later Grades

In second grade, children are expected to perfect the skills taught in first grade and also work toward doing assignments independently. "By the time a student reaches the second grade there is no time to take it slow," notes Shannon Coleman-Maiden, a second grade teacher in Dallas, TX. "At this level, students are gaining more knowledge and are bringing in what they've previously learned." 

Each subsequent year will build on the last as children continue to grow. "Once children are in the school, first and second grade will follow naturally," says Carol Paull, a former first and second grade teacher and current teacher educator in Cleveland, OH. "The teacher and support staff evaluate children in an ongoing way so that with the successful completion of one grade, the child moves smoothly to the next."