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Elementary school

Three elementary school kids in a classroom.

Three elementary school kids in a classroom. Credit: MorgueFile

First grade

There is one major goal for first grade: Continue to learn to read more complex texts.

"Conquering the written word is key to future success in school, as students will need high-level reading skills to comprehend science, social studies and mathematical word problems," said Lisa Slover, principal at Westhampton Beach Elementary School. By the end of the year, students are required to read grade level text with purpose and understanding. "When listening to texts that are read aloud by an adult, kids will participate in conversations that will help them to compare, contrast, analyze, and synthesize what they've heard," said Lucille McAssey, principal of Waverly Park School in Lynbrook. Vocabulary development will be a major focus, as strong language skills are the key to reading success.

First-grade math will go beyond adding and subtracting numbers. "Students will use concrete materials and drawing to understand and represent mathematical ideas," said McAssey. They will begin to use reasoning to make sense of math and to draw upon their real-world experiences to solve problems.

Technology is a major player in the classroom; even from the earliest grades, it's used as a major instructional tool. "Most classrooms are equipped with Interactive whiteboard (SMARTBOARD) technology that enables teachers to have immediate access to the Internet, as well as to educational programs and activities that support instruction," said McAssey.

First graders arrive at school excited to be there and very enthusiastic about learning. In fact, during this very important foundation year, they are like little sponges, soaking up information, and curious about the world around them. "They adore their teacher -- whatever she or he says is irrefutable," said McAsssey. "First graders have learned to move beyond parallel play, they love to feel included, and they make friends easily."

Second grade

Second grade is first grade pumped up a notch. Students will be required to proficiently read and comprehend grade level literature including stories, poetry, and informational texts (history, social studies, and science). Listening and language skills will continue to be emphasized. "In writing, students will be required to introduce a topic, to develop supporting statements, and to provide a conclusion," said McAssey. With guidance and support from adults, they'll also use a variety of digital tools to begin to produce and publish their own writing.

Math in second grade will focus on building fluency with addition and subtraction, and to continue to explore problem solving. "Students will be introduced to standard units of measure and will learn how to describe and analyze shapes," said McAssey.

Third grade

In third grade, students often learn to write in script. For most students, this is the first time they will be taking standardized assessments that measure their literacy and mathematical skills, said Slover. Third graders need to become more responsible for their work throughout the year as they are transitioning to become independent students, said Sandy Schneider, principal of West School in Long Beach. In math, they encounter multiplication. They work together, for instance in small lab groups doing simple experiments.

Socially, boys and girls are still segregated. But in this grade, social life at school gets more cliquish. While most children remain eager and excited about learning, second and third grades are when some start to struggle with more demanding schoolwork and may fuss about going to school. Parents should watch for frustrations and address them with the teacher.

Fourth grade

By fourth grade, students are learning higher levels of vocabulary and reading comprehension skills, while also being exposed to a wide variety of texts, said Slover. "Motivation is a huge factor and instilling the love of reading is one of our primary goals," she said.

Parents can help by reading to their children and then asking them questions about the material, such as who was the main character and how the story ended. "Continuous exposure to new and interesting vocabulary can be practiced through a variety of learning experiences, such as visits to places of interest in the community, fun family research projects, and on-going communication," said Slover. Another simple and free idea, Slover suggests, is to turn on the closed-caption option if kids are watching television so they can be exposed to written language.

Fifth grade

By fifth grade, students start to be influenced more by their peers than their teachers. They also start facing societal issues. "In addition, the onset of puberty begins for many students," said McAssey. "At this level, health lessons address puberty issues, as well as drug awareness and prevention." A greater emphasis is also placed on Internet safety and the legal, responsible use of information and technology to communicate and learn within the digital world. "Parents should continue to be aware of what their students are doing on the computer," said Schneider. As students reach the fifth grade, more and more are going to social networking sites and making contacts with strangers, giving out their passwords and engaging in cyber-bullying, said Schneider. "This is dangerous and should be closely monitored as these issues are often started or brought into school."

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