In these early elementary years, play and learning go hand in hand: Your child will develop the building blocks of literacy and numeracy, hopefully in a joyful, language-rich classroom environment. Learning should be fun.
While kids do develop at their own pace, your child should be well on their way to fluent reading by the end of second grade, because that’s going to set them up for success later in school. We’ll walk you through some things to keep an eye on, questions to ask your child’s teacher, and how to support their learning at home.
What to Focus On
Thinking & Learning
Learning to Read
Kids come to elementary school with a wide range of literacy knowledge: Your child might still be learning their letters, or they might already know how to read (or something in between!). Either way, the years to come are huge for literacy development.
Listening to Understand
Learning to read isn’t just about learning to sound out and recognize words. As your child is developing the building blocks of reading, they’re also gaining new skills understanding what they read—or what is being read to them. In fact, listening itself is a vital literacy skill.
Learning to Write
In their early years of elementary school, your child won’t just learn to read—they’ll also learn to write. And they’ll probably start with the most important word of all: their own name.
Addition and Subtraction 101
Now that your child is in elementary school, they’ll start building on their understanding of numbers to do more complex calculations, like adding and subtracting. And because of a recent shift in how math is taught, your child is going to be building conceptual knowledge of why numbers work the way they do—not just memorizing formulas like we did.
Building a Growth Mindset
Now that they’re in Big Kid School, your child is going to be asked to do more complex thinking and learning—and that means they also need to be ready to face challenges head on and problem-solve when things get tough. The goal in these years is to build not just their knowledge, but also their love of learning. That means helping them see themselves as capable, full of potential, and able to grow. (Which, of course, they are!)
Social / Emotional
Navigating Friendships and Feelings
In elementary school, friendships become more complex than just playing in the sandbox. Your kid is probably going to start developing bigger feelings about their social worlds—from anxiety about friendships to empathy for their pals to a strong sense of “right and wrong.”
How to Help Your Little Kid
3 Ways to Support Your Child’s Development at Home
Read together and separately. As your child develops their reading skills, try incorporating two kinds of books into your at-home reading: those your child can read aloud to you or on their own, and more advanced books that you read aloud to them. Reading aloud to your child for 15 minutes every night as part of their bedtime routine is a great way to get into the habit. And, hey, listening to audiobooks counts as reading too (and can be an easier sell for reluctant readers, who might like listening along while they play, color, or do something else they enjoy).
Encourage open-ended play. Their imagination is taking off, and they're learning so much through play. Set them up with the tools they need to explore their interests, from simple (and inexpensive!) toys like blocks and crayons to recycled items like empty cereal boxes and egg cartons. Who knows what they'll come up with! Camp Kinda, Jr. has tons of at-home activities for rainy days, too.
Use screen time to your advantage. If you were expecting judgment for allowing your kid time in front of a screen, you won’t find it here. (We’re parents too.) But as you’ve probably seen, not all screen time is created equal. Vegging out in front of their favorite shows is fine some of the time, but you can also point them toward high-quality apps and games that will reinforce the skills they’re learning in school. Here’s our list of favorite educational apps for elementary students.
It's time to
Start Planning for Summer
Yes, now. While it's still cold out. Whether you plan to send your kid to summer camp, have them hang out with a sitter or family member, or do something else, now is the time to start thinking about it all—because if you do want to register for any kind of activities or childcare, sign-ups often happen well in advance of summer. Here's our easy-peasy guide to summer planning to get you started. As a first step, check your school year calendar so you know exactly when school lets out (and when it starts again in the fall). Once you know which weeks you need to fill with something, you can start the fun (?) part of actually figuring out what to do with your child.
All Little Kid Resources
Summer Learning for All Ages
3 Things to Do Before the End of the School Year
How to Make the Most of Your Local Library
How to Email Your Kid’s Teacher
How to Get Your Child's School Records (and Why You Might Want to)
Is Your Child Ready to Be More Challenged in School?
What Parents Need to Know About “Gifted” Programs
Our Top Alternatives to Screen Time
Virtual Adventures for Curious (Little) Kids
EdNavigator’s own online learning experience for the 3-6 year-old set, with adventures like “Things that Roar,” “World of Color,” and “Animal Friends.”Explore Camp Kinda Jr.
A Few of Our Favorite Sites for Living Life with Kids
Easy access to favorite preschool shows like Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Molly of Denali, and Wild Kratts, along with games and more.
Our first stop for anything related to learning differences. This is a great place to look for initial guidance if you have questions about your child’s social-emotional development or their learning needs.
Common Sense Media
Our go-to resource for trusted movie, book, and app reviews.
National PTA Parents' Guide to Success
The National PTA offers these year-by-year guides to help parents understand what their kids should be working on in school.
What’s Next For Your Child’s School Journey
It’s time for upper elementary school!
It’s time for upper elementary school! They’ll make the transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn,” build their executive functioning skills, become more proficient using technology as part of their learning, and start getting ready for middle school. (Gulp.)
Don’t miss a beat.
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