Teachers have academic goals for each grade, of course, but many parents aren’t aware that there are also some important expectations for our children’s social and emotional development. If your child meets those expectations around the same time as others in her class, she’ll likely do better. If she doesn’t, she may have trouble keeping up with the rest of the group. Knowing what teachers expect from grade to grade will help you figure out whether your child might need some extra help and how to work with her teacher to provide it.
Kindergarten: Getting in Step
Emerging independence For some children, kindergarten marks the first big separation from their family. They have to be able to cope with the events of any given day — both disappointments and triumphs — on their own, put the urge to see Mom or Dad or a familiar baby-sitter on hold, become more self-reliant and learn to turn to adults other than their parentss for help.
Learning to be part of a group Sitting in a circle, standing in a line and working with other kids to build a block town are part of a typical kindergarten day. These activities are not as easy for children as they seem to the rest of us. They require many social skills, such as being able to compromise and to control the impulse to shout or jump up whenever they feel like it.
Staying on task In preschool, kids can start coloring a picture and move on to building with blocks when their interest wanes. But in kindergarten, they begin learning to stay with a task until it’s finished. Very short, focused activities, such as tracing numbers or telling a story, are designed to help kids do that.
First Grade: More Serious Stuff
Stronger task focus The ability to complete a task is even more important now than it was in kindergarten because in most schools first grade is the year instruction in reading and understanding numbers begins. This requires an ability to focus on serious work that may not always be fun. Even smart children may fall behind if they can’t focus in this way or become easily frustrated.
Responding to authority First-graders are expected to listen when it’s required, wait their turn and do what their teacher asks. The atmosphere in kindergarten is more lenient. But first-grade teachers have much more academic work to cover. For kids, that means more sitting down, more listening and more self-control are necessary.
Seeing their place in the world First-graders are beginning to see themselves and their families in a wider context and recognize differences and similarities. At this stage, your child is likely to discover a passionate “best” friend who is “just like” him. Bear in mind that these intense friendships may last anywhere from an hour to a year.
Second Grade: Learning to Think
Becoming more abstract and conceptual Second-graders are just beginning to think in an abstract way. Rather than always manipulating objects in order to do math — counting marbles, for example — they should begin to think about numbers in their heads.
Problem solving Most teachers expect second-graders to start using problem-solving skills: being able to think about a problem, come up with possible solutions, evaluate them and choose one to try. Teachers assume children will use these skills both in academic work like math and in dealing with other kids. Those who are good at problem solving usually get along much better in school.
Third and Fourth Grade: Good Work
Academic polish By now it’s no longer enough for your child just to complete a task; how good a job she’s done is also important. Teachers want to see work that’s neatly written, math that’s been checked for errors, and reports that are well organized and well presented.
Planning ahead Children start learning to keep track of long-range assignments in late third grade and fourth grade. A spelling test every Friday means doing a bit of studying each night. A report due in two weeks means mapping out a step-by-step plan. As most parents learn, this ability doesn’t come as naturally to our kids as procrastination seems to. Often we don’t recognize how much they need our help to develop thinking-ahead strategies.
Cultivating camaraderie Children begin to have a strong sense of themselves in relation to the group, as in “I’m a sports kind of kid, and so are my friends.” Trouble may arise if your child has difficulty finding something in common with his other classmates.
Fifth and Sixth Grade: Peer Power
Peer pressure By this age children have developed a huge need to conform, so peer pressure can have a big impact — both positive and negative — on school performance. Many children become so distracted by social issues that academic responsibilities take a back seat or get lost in the day-to-day social shuffle.
Changeable moods Typically students are happy one day, miserable the next, love school one day, hate it the day after. A best friend changes to a worst enemy overnight. All this moodiness takes a toll on life in school just as it does on the family at home — for some kids worse than others. Many teachers rely on a fairly structured class environment to counterbalance kids’ internal chaos, with quizzes every Friday, homework every Tuesday and Thursday, and so on.
Study skills Being able to study effectively for tests, apportion study time appropriately and keep track of long-range assignments are now highly important. Can students always do it? Of course not.
Being organized In many schools these grades mark the beginning of departmentalization. Students may start to move around from classroom to classroom and have more than one teacher for different subjects. Many kids react to this shift by becoming even more disorganized and distracted than they were before: forgotten homework, lunches, jackets and shoes (yes, shoes!). They may also panic about tests that they forgot to study for. Make a special effort to stay on top of your child until you’re sure she’s got the hang of the new routine.