The aim of this article is to provide an overview of what changes you can expect in your newly-minted first grader by the end of the school year. These changes will occur across all developmental domains: motor; cognitive; language and social-emotional.


Motor skills
Social and emotional skills
Things to remember


A first grader getting ready for school.

Moving up from kindergarten to first grade is an exciting next step in your child’s growth and development. Your child is leaving the world of preschool and kindergarten classes to attend primary or elementary school for the very first time. Aside from selecting a shiny new backpack and pencil cases, how else can you prepare for your child’s next season of growth and development?

While you may not see much physical change in your child this year, you are likely to see tremendous changes in your child’s social, emotional and cognitive development. A word to the wise: all children grow at a different pace, and it is critical not to be too panicked if your child doesn’t achieve a milestone in time. Human development is a complex subject and every child is unique – so no two children will develop in the same way or at the same rate!

If you do feel that your child may be struggling, or has missed more than one milestone, then it’s probably a good idea to consult your pediatrician or family doctor for more insight and information.


By the end of first grade, most children:

  • Demonstrate improved hand-eye coordination (e.g. able to tie laces)
  • Can dance in time with music or a rhythmic beat – and add their own moves!
  • Have more legible handwriting
  • Can run, hop, skip, gallop, leap, slide, jump
  • Combine two movements to form a pattern (e.g. skip, skip, jump, jump)
  • Can put together simple tumbling patterns
  • Can throw, kick and catch a ball (with both hands)
  • Can copy shapes and letters
  • Know how to use utensils the right way
  • May begin playing a musical instrument, like the recorder
  • Ride a bicycle without training wheels
  • Can do chores, like making the bed
  • Tie their shoes and zip a button on their own

In terms of fitness, children may be able to:

  • Engage in 1-2 moderate to intense physical activities
  • Perform activities that require less intense but continuous movements
  • Perform movements designed to develop strength and endurance
  • Understand how regular exercise can strengthen the body
  • Perform between 4 and 10 pushups
  • Raise their chest at least 6 inches from the floor when lying on their stomach
  • Perform between 4-14 crunches


A teacher and elementary school children at a bus stop.

During or by the end of first grade, most children:

  • Develop reasoning and logic skills
  • Think before making decisions
  • Learn from what they hear and read, not just what they see and do
  • May have trouble making choices, because they want to do everything
  • Can read sight words and sound out other words
  • Begin to have a better sense of time – like days, months, years and seasons
  • Can predict what comes next in a pattern
  • Can create their own patterns
  • Write and recognize numbers 0 to 100
  • Know the words for numbers 0 to 20
  • Can do basic addition and subtraction up to 20


During or by the end of first grade, most children:

  • Print uppercase and lowercase letters accurately
  • Write from left to right, and then top to bottom
  • Print their first and last name with correct capitalization
  • Write clear and coherent sentences that use adjectives
  • Write several sentences about a specific experience
  • Ask questions about things that have been read
  • Recognize the difference between singular and plural nouns
  • Understand the difference between letters, words and paragraphs
  • Read contractions
  • Interpret a story to pose and answer “who”, “what”, “where”, and “how” questions
  • Follow one-step written instructions
  • Figure out the definitions of unfamiliar words based on contextual clues
  • Use basic punctuation like periods and question marks
  • Locate the title, author name, illustrator name and table of contents
  • Sort common words into categories, like food, colors and shapes
  • Identify the main character of a story being read
  • Distinguish the difference between reality and make-believe in a story
  • Read and explain their own reading and writing
  • Read different types of content like books and poetry (rhymes)
  • Identify ways that stories might relate to their own life
  • Start sounding out words
  • Understand the relationship between letters and sounds (vowels and consonants)
  • Know, use and understand thousands of words; and read over 100 words
  • No longer reverse letters when writing them
  • Try to convince people of their viewpoint and tell stories
  • Tell jokes and riddles, and understand simple puns
  • Tell little lies about everyday things
  • Can recall what they hear

Social and Emotional Skills

First grader walking out of school.

During or by the end of first grade, most children:

  • Display more self-control, be willing to receive feedback and adjust for improvement
  • Participate in low-organized games
  • Choose activities that involve cooperation and social interaction
  • Move to solve conflicts without being prompted by an adult
  • May be more independent, but need more approval from adults
  • Form and break friendships easily
  • Can be critical of other children
  • Can get their feelings hurt easily
  • Are more aware of the feelings of others
  • Are eager to please and want to fit in; and are more aware of how others view them
  • Understand “right” from “wrong” but may look for ways to break the rules
  • May feel embarrassed
  • Express feelings with words, but may resort to aggression when upset


It’s important to recognize that human development is a delicate process; and it’s never the same for every child. If you do feel concern for your child’s developmental trajectory, then by all means consult a medical professional for an opinion.

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