Teachers weigh in: What elementary school kids should know

Aug 1, 2013 at 7:00 a.m. ET

Elementary school is a nerve-wracking time in your child’s life. Help them be better prepared with these tips from teachers!

Female teacher in elementary school classroom

When kids start elementary school, there are certain things they need to be able to do and understand in order to do well. Parents do all they can to better prepare their kids and hope for the best. Kids don’t want to be made fun of for falling behind. We asked elementary school teachers to share with us what kids should know before starting out. The tips are useful and practical, and parents can start putting them to use today.

Advice from a second grade teacher

Alice Jungclaus, M.Ed., who is an international educator who currently teaches second grade at the Inner-Community School Zurich, shares the following tips.

Parenting Well in the Digital Age
Jungclaus recommends the book Parenting Well in a Media Age: Keeping Our Kids Humanby Gloria DeGaetano.
  • Engage young children in exploration in nature, physical play and age-appropriate handicraft and/or construction activities as much as possible before kindergarten to give their brains and motor skills what is needed for optimal development.
  • Create family traditions such as a game night. Play age-appropriate games involving numbers, shapes and/or strategy to develop critical-thinking skills. Ideas for younger children include: puzzles, building blocks, large Lego and shape-matching games. For older elementary students, games such as chess, Connect Four and card games involving numbers are helpful.
  • When children start to show an interest in money, have them examine it with you, sort it and learn to count it. When shopping with older children make it a habit to have them help you estimate the total cost of items prior to payment to build their number sense.
  • Once children know simple addition and subtraction, use regular playing cards to practice mastery during fun games for 10 to 15 minutes each night.
  • Read to and with your children with real books (not electronic devices). Talk about what you liked and what you wish you could change about the content of the books.
  • Do not use screens to read with young children. Ideally, children under age 2 should have zero engagement with screens. They will have sufficient time at an appropriate brain-developmental stage in their schooling for using technology and will quickly become "digital natives" alongside their peers.
  • Substitute looking at screens with cooking together, painting, drawing, building, writing in a journal, making story books, dancing creatively to music or any other activity that engages children's senses and imagination.
  • Copy the class meeting or circle time technique that elementary teachers use to promote listening, speaking and both critical and creative thinking. Engaging children in a consistent, weekly family meeting boosts their senses of purpose, belonging and capacity to contribute to the well-being of a social group. Start and end with appreciations and compliments for one another and spend some time resolving issues or making plans together (trips, chores, redecorating, etc.).

Advice from a third grade teacher

Whitney Sparks currently teaches the third grade and has taught in the public school system for 10 years. Her two simple tips for elementary school students are:

  • Focus on reading. Kids who can read at or above their level tend to do the best. Parents should have a constant dialogue with their children and allow them to create stories and solve problems on their own. Communication is extremely helpful in motivating kids to enjoy reading.
  • Once they’ve mastered reading, focus on writing fluently. Keep in mind that people tend to write how they speak, and all of this goes back to reading. Always encourage reading and proper communication in your home.

Remember, your child can never be too prepared for elementary school. Encourage them to do well and make learning fun from a young age. Establish good bedtime routines and healthy eating habits. Kids enjoy routines and structure — in fact, they thrive off it!

More on elementary school

Teach your child to love math, even if you don’t
Homework help tips for every age
Supporting writing skills in the elementary years