The Ultimate Guide to Elementary School—For Parents
Welcome to TutorNerd's guide to elementary school education—made specifically for parents. Here is your one-stop-overview for almost everything to do with Elementary School (Kindergarten through fifth grade, specifically). This guide will cover nearly all topics that parents with elementary-aged children will need to know—whether you're child is currently attending elementary school or if he/she is about to start it.
Also—in each section there are links to additional posts on our blog that go into more detail on specific topics. So take a look at these if you don't see what you're looking for right away.
Elementary School—what an exciting chapter in both your life and your child’s life. Like any other significant phase of your child’s life, there will be struggles as well as triumphs! And while that might seem so stressful at times, don’t worry—it will be ok. The fact you’re here educating yourself is a huge first step to ensuring this important chapter in your lives is met head on. And we at TutorNerd are here to help.
Check out what you need in this guide (or read the whole thing), and apply it to you and your child’s unique situation. You will find info about school selection, preparation tips for the school year ahead, grade- and age-specific information from Kindergarten through 5th Grade, some extras at the end about study skills, summer enrichment programs and tons of great information in between.
Grab a cup of coffee (or your relaxing beverage of choice), make yourself comfortable, and dig into this guide. Make use of the resources here and we wish you and your family so many wonderful memories for the school year to come and all the years to follow. And don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions
Part 1: Importance of Elementary Education
The Early Years
There is a link between early education and success in life. Believe it or not, elementary school success is an indicator of the type of work your child will choose, the amount of money he/she will earn in the future, and the overall likelihood of having a fulfilling life. Research has shown that 95% of brain growth happens from birth to age 5, and that growth is molded and solidified by experiences and environment from age 5 to 10 and beyond. In addition, many professionals are of the opinion that childhood habits solidify as early as 3rd Grade. While there's no perfect path to success, one thing stands out over the rest: forming good habits early is a great way to start.
Elementary And Beyond
Each encounter, experience, and choice for your child builds over time. This influences how and why your child will choose a career and pursue a desired lifestyle. There was an interesting finding in a recent study that showed adults who believed that their early school habits had a major impact on life satisfaction also reported being the most satisfied with their life. In looking to the future, that same study found that elementary and middle school students with a strong work ethic and above-average performance were more likely to earn higher degrees in college, make more money in their chosen career, and be more satisfied with their life as an adult.
Part 2: Elementary School Selection
Factors In Selecting the Perfect Elementary School
There are many factors to consider when selecting the right school for your family and your child’s needs. A great first step is thinking about things like location and distance, class size, along with student and staff resources, just to name a few. We suggest making a list of your priorities for your family and for your child. Use this list of priorities along with diligent research towards making your right choice. In the post linked below we provide more detail about elementary school selection such as asking friends and neighbors and touring schools of interest.
Public vs Private School
The debate over public or private school has been ongoing since the 19th century and isn’t letting up. As a parent, you may wonder: Is public or private elementary school better for my child? How do you choose? What is best for you and your family? Hard questions, we know. In the post linked below, we provide a detailed comparison of private and public schools.
This article discusses topics such as cost, class size and quality of teachers. We provide you with some basic facts that will help you weigh the options. We also note important further questions you and your family will need to consider. As you’ll see, this is a very personal choice and one worth educating yourself on before making a decision.
Specialized and Gifted Schools
Schools with a specific focus, such as the arts or science, along with gifted schools and programs, are an additional option for your child. In our post on specialized schools, we dive further into this niche area of education. We provide a brief history of each option, its main purpose or goal for students, along with a look into the admissions processes. Many options await you here as well, but we’ve organized the information into an easy-to-follow guide. We make thoughtful suggestions to assist with your research and final decision.
Part 3: Grade Expectations: K-5 Milestones and Subject Content Guides
Kindergarten aged children enjoy activities like dancing, dribbling a basketball, or swimming. Your child should be able hold a pencil with a tripod grip, and use a fork, knife and spoon easily. Children this age can also recite their name, address, and phone number and can follow simple multi-step directions. Kindergarteners tend to tell stories, jokes and riddles, and may understand simple puns.
Some of the learning milestones in Kindergarten include…
- Recognizing national and state symbols and icons, such as the flags and the Statue of Liberty
- Putting days, weeks and months in proper order
- Using counting objects to represent two quantities and compare them
- Learning the letters of the alphabet and their sounds
- Communicating ideas about how they can reduce their impact on the planet
In 1st grade, students’ coordination continues to improve—things like kicking or throwing a ball, catching a ball with both hands, tying their own shoe laces, along with running, skipping, and jumping all become easier. They begin walking on their tiptoes and heel-to-toe, like on a balance beam. Children should be able to wipe and wash after using the bathroom. They are more aware of how others see them—they might feel embarrassed or proud.
Some of the learning milestones in 1st grade include…
- Making observations of how an organism is similar to its parent but not an exact copy
- Comparing and contrasting everyday life in different times and places around the world and recognizing that some aspects of people, places, and things change over time while others stay the same
- Understanding place value and use place value understanding and properties of operations to add and subtract
- Being able to identify who is telling a story at various points in a text
- Comparing and contrasting the adventures and experiences of characters in stories
Children at this age are more serious and less impulsive than first graders. They like to collect, organize, and sort things. 2nd graders tend to become egocentric but also understand others’ perspectives. They compare themselves to others and can be self critical. Students also view things as right or wrong, wonderful or terrible, with very little middle ground.
Some of the learning milestones in 2nd grade include…
- Tracing the history of a family through the use of primary and secondary sources, including artifacts, photographs, interviews, and documents.
- Compare and contrast their daily lives with those of their parents, grandparents, and/or guardians.
- Learning the stories of extraordinary people from history whose achievements have touched them, directly or indirectly
- Learning to tell and write time from analog and digital clocks to the nearest five minutes, using a.m. and p.m.
- Examining how materials change when heated or cooled, determining that some changes can be reversed and some cannot
- Using mental strategies to fluently add and subtract within 20
Children at this age may be physically daring because their fine motor skills have increased speed and smoothness. With those increases students enjoy testing muscle strength and skills. Students in this grade may also enjoy collecting, organizing, planning, building, and classifying objects and information. 3rd graders show an interest in rules and rituals. Generally girls tend to play more with girls, and boys with boys. They may even have a best friend. Children may also develop a strong desire to perform well and do things right.
Some of the learning milestones in 3rd grade include…
- Identifying weather-related hazards and engineering solutions to reduce their impact
- Using their understanding of magnets to engineer solutions to an everyday problem
- Using multiplication and division within 100 to solve word problems in situations involving equal groups, arrays, and measurement quantities
- Learning to solve word problems involving addition and subtraction of time intervals in minutes
- Comparing and contrasting the themes, settings, and plots of stories written by the same author about the same or similar characters (e.g., in books from a series)
At this age, girls are generally ahead of boys in physical maturity and students may begin to be interested in the opposite sex. Peer conformity in dressing is important. Students may have problems with increased homework demands.
Some of the learning milestones in 4th grade include…
- Learning how to explain and use the coordinate grid system of latitude and longitude to determine the absolute locations of places in their home state and on Earth
- Demonstrating an understanding of the physical and human geographic features that define places and regions in their home state
- Learning to draw points, lines, line segments, rays, angles (right, acute, obtuse), and perpendicular and parallel lines and how to identify these in two-dimensional figures
- Using place value understanding to round multi-digit whole numbers to any place
- Learning how to determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including those that allude to significant characters found in mythology (e.g., Herculean)
5th graders tend to experience increased body strength and hand dexterity, along with their appetite fluctuating. Children at this age tend to talk and listen more than work, though they are good problem solvers and become increasingly concerned about fairness. Behaviors like belittling or defying adult authority increase but so does their desire to become closer to their families. Students tend to develop a more mature sense of right and wrong, and are good at solving social issues.
Some of the learning milestones in 5th grade include…
- Learning how to communicate strategies for protecting their planet and reducing human impacts on these different systems
- Studying the cause, course, and consequences of the early explorations through the War for Independence and western expansion
- Reading and writing decimals to thousandths using base-ten numerals, number names, and expanded form
- Adding and subtracting fractions with unlike denominators (including mixed numbers) by replacing given fractions with equivalent fractions in such a way as to produce an equivalent sum or difference of fractions with like denominators
- Determining a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic
Part 4: Elementary School Extra’s: Study Skills, Tutoring, Summer, and More
First Day Of School Readiness Guide
Are you ready for the first day of school?
The beginning of any new school year, whether it’s their or your first or tenth, can be a stressful time. Here are some tips to help de-stress the process—whether you and your child are returning to school or preparing for the very first day.
Practice and prepare a routine.
Plan to start practicing a new “morning routine” before school actually begins. Starting one month ahead of time should be sufficient. This will give your family 20 weekdays to get into a new way of doing things. This way they (and you) will be well prepared for the first day and the rest of the school year.
The idea is to start preparing at night for the following day. For example, begin preparing Sunday night for Monday. Your child’s bedtime for school nights begins on Sunday nights. It is helpful to also have them prepare their backpack with supplies (especially for the first day) and any finished homework or text books. Set the prepared backpack near the front door, perhaps next to their shoes so you both know where it is. Picking out, ironing, and laying out clothes for the next day is also very helpful and saves time in the morning. Have a designated start time, or wake up time, and perhaps designate a check-in time (for example a 30 minute reminder of your leave time); and of course have a set time to leave for school. Be sure to account for carpool pick ups and traffic. Practice this “nighttime” and “morning of” routine for the last month of summer, it should help immensely.
Communicate with your child in a way they will understand about these changes.
Sit him/her down before you start the new routines and again before he/she actually starts school. Let him/her know that he/she can ask questions at any point. Emphasize that these changes are good things and that the better he/she gets at them the easier the days will be. You could even make a little game out of it—have a reward system in place when so many days are met with on-time or early completion of the routine.
Also be sure to ask your child how he/she feels about going to school for the first time or returning for the first time. Address any concerns or questions your child might have and reassure him/her that, whatever they have to face, you will be there to help, as will classmates and the teacher. Making your child feel as prepared and comfortable for this process will help decrease the amount of anxiety and stress, and make your life so much easier too.
Help your child become familiar with their new environment and the people they will encounter there.
If possible, have your child visit the school in advance and meet any teachers and peers that will be part of the classroom. If a school tour is not an option or you missed it, you may be able to coordinate with the front office staff about scheduling a visit of your own to walk the campus as you desire. Most schools can accommodate this and will only require that you sign in on the visitor log and wear a “visitor” sticker. When it is not possible to physically visit, collect pictures for your child to see. Include pictures of all important people (e.g., teacher, principal, peers, etc.,) and locations (e.g. classroom, bathroom, locker, etc.). This can easily be done by visiting the schools website and clicking through the various faculty and facility tabs.
Parents – prepare yourselves!
Preparing yourself for a new school year is also an important step in this process. Reach out to your child’s teacher and express your expectations and goals for the year. Become familiar with school policies and school contacts. Connect with other parents in the school and introduce yourself to the school community. Feeling comfortable in your child’s school and becoming familiar with the professionals who will work with your child may help to give you peace of mind and a better understanding of your child’s daily experiences.
Elementary School Study Skills
Is your child often the reason you are late to dropping them or the rest of the family off to school in the mornings? Did you recently hear from the teacher that your child’s homework scores are not in line with his/her performance in the classroom—and you are confused about what’s going on? Does your child seem to take longer to do homework than you expect or longer than his/her siblings? Or, even more common, is your child happy at school, has plenty of friends, has great relationships with their teacher and school staff, and yet struggles with grades?
If any of, or several of these, sound familiar or close, this section will help! Teaching your child a strong foundation of study skills and habits early is crucial to their self confidence and academic success.
Classroom success is obtained through a mix of habits and skills, practiced often over time that result in a confident, open-minded, and creative individual who is resourceful and determined. How to best prepare your child for this is laid out for you below. We will start with skills that are great to start at any age, as they are easy, practical and somewhat natural, so your child should hopefully be able to pick them up with little trouble—however, if not, don’t fret or allow them to fret; practice makes perfect!
1. Time management, planning and organizing
This can begin at a very early age and start with something as simple as going to the beach with the family on a Saturday. Plus by getting your child involved in the plans it will get them more excited about going.
You can ask questions of your child after you’ve done this beach day a few times, this will prompt them to pay attention to the details of the day. The planning can begin the night before, at dinner you can suggest to them options about when to leave, how long to stay, what activities and supplies will they need, etc.
You can work with your child to set out swimsuits the night before, and organize all the toys - shovels, pails, sand castle builders, boogie board, sunblock, hat, sandals, etc - on the kitchen table or near the front door so it's ready before you leave the next day. Discussing when to leave, perhaps after one of their favorite shows and being sure to be back before your usual dinner time.
Using this same process with other outings (grocery shopping, playdates, daycare, visiting family) and using time-based examples they can understand (the length of time of their favorite TV show, or the beginning or ending time of that same show, your families usual breakfast, lunch or dinner times) and then expand on those concepts as your child ages. This will help instill these skills early and make them practically second nature to them as your child gets older.
2. Practicing basics regularly
This, too, can be done at an early age with easy, everyday tasks then blended into school related tasks.
You and your child can begin with things like hygiene (washing hands, brushing teeth) or the process of getting dressed (from top to bottom - brushing or styling hair, wearing proper clothes, then socks and shoes or sandals). As they start school you can work into practicing the alphabet each morning and night, or working on a certain number of sight words each day during the week.
It is important to pay close attention to strengths and weaknesses here and be sure to maximize on both. If your child struggles in one area regularly you should first, calmly explain to them it’s ok and that this is why we practice things. Then follow that area of struggle with an area of strength - this helps reinforce the process and their self confidence. Also, by mastering basics, this will help when more complicated tasks arise.
3. Mindset and positive thinking
Learning to be in a good headspace and having a positive outlook on things is a skill best engrained young. Fortunately, younger children are predisposed towards positivity, usually.
Prior to school years and in early school years, when your child has a task to perform, talk them through how to process the task in their mind as they do it. Remind them to focus on the task at hand and work towards a positive outcome. This is also a good time to encourage positive self talk with your child, model it for them aloud and have them repeat what you say.
As your child ages, continue this and eventually your child will be able to utilize this critical skill all on their own. Being in the right mind set from learning to tie their shoes to preparing for their first unit quiz or exam and thinking positively about the outcome using positive self-talk will be a game-changer throughout Elementary years into Middle and High School.
4. Multimedia strategies
What is meant by “multimedia” is digital tools such as educational apps and games, to digital quizzes and tests, even digital flashcards as well as use of the internet to find educational videos on YouTube. While computers and cell phones may be viewed as a distraction, used properly and under strict adult supervision, these devices and the myriad of platforms they offer your child to learn and hone skills are well worth making the exception.
The opportunities available to children these days are wonderful and we would encourage you to investigate this tool. Now, with that said, be sure to do two things: (1) do your homework about the companies and ways the games work before allowing your child to play or watch any of these resources. Know that they come from reputable and trusted sources. (2) Be very clear with your child and explain that the time spent watching videos, playing on apps or playing the games is to be used as a supplemental tool to homework and studying, will only be allowed for a proper, set amount of time and only after homework is completed. This way you create clear communication to your child about the reason and purpose of these tools and you set very specific boundaries they need to abide by to ensure continued use of these tools.
5. Create a designated study area
As your child gets older they are going to have more and more homework coming home from school. Help them create a comfortable, well-lit space that is truly theirs. Suggest places to put certain supplies so they are easily accessible, and make sure it's a quiet space, away from a TV, family gathering place and not near a window facing a noisy outdoor area. Encourage your child to take ownership over the area by giving them freedom to decorate, and teach them to tidy up and organize their desk each night so they’re ready to get to work when it comes time for the next study session.
6. Identify and limit distractions
Some kids can be easily distracted while they're trying to study. That’s especially true for kids who have trouble staying focused. Work with you child to identify distractions and devise strategies to limit those distractions. Teach your child how to put their computer away and turn off all other devices that may serve as a form of distraction while they’re studying. Multi-tasking also takes away from learning, so encourage your child to focus on a single subject for a sustained period of time before moving onto another subject. And above all, ensure that your child has healthy sleeping and eating habits in order to maximize their focus and make the most of time spent studying.
7. Test prep and project planning
Both of these fall under number one, time management, planning and organizing, however, we felt them important enough to mention on their own. There are a number of skills and habits that can be utilized to best accomplish both test prep and project planning - so we will break them down here: keeping a planner is a HUGE help! The planner can be organized by day and subject to help track due dates. Utilizing a grade sheet or test/project rubric is essential in knowing exactly what will be covered and what is necessary to meet and/or exceed various expectations (**If their teacher does not provide one, request one). When the test subject or project is being discussed in class proper note taking skills are a must! Or if your child is studying materials related to the test or project, taking proper, useful and well organized notes will help them recall the information later as they get closer to the test or project due date.
Practicing active reading and active listening skills while note taking will help immensely and are a trifecta of proper test prep and project planning. Chunking tasks and keeping checklists will be the proverbial “nail in the coffin”, combined with these other strategies. The act of breaking the subject matter of a test OR the phases of completing a project by making a checklist helps to break down a HUGE assignment into a bunch of easier, more manageable assignments that can be accomplished over time. This will help your child to avoid cramming the night before and help keep them in a positive mindset.
8. Teach your child to ask for help
Be it from the teacher, from you, from a counselor or even from fellow students. If your child would prefer to ask for help from a specialist like a tutor, we would be happy to assist you with that! Instill in your child that asking for help is ok, and even encouraged. It should not be viewed as weakness or that it means they are not smart (remember that positive self-talk we mentioned earlier).
When Is The Right Time To Hire A Tutor For My Child?
Needing help with homework or catching up on the workload is nothing new. As a parent, knowing when your child needs that help can be the difficult part. There are several red flags to keep on the lookout for as your child progresses through school. If one or more of these issues arise we always suggest first speaking with the teacher and your child to better understand exactly what is going on from both perspectives. From there, seeking out high-quality tutoring services (like at TutorNerd) is the next best step.
Keep a close watch on the following situations:
- Constant confusion about homework in general or a specific subject. You may notice your child gradually growing more confused, or even frustrated, with assignments coming home. Or they may also get confused or frustrated in the classroom. Ask your child what it is he/she doesn't understand and see if you are able to help them. If that doesn’t work, speak with their teacher about your child’s performance in this subject in class.
- Not managing time well can also be a sign that help is needed. If your child takes longer than expected to finish homework in general or a particular subject, especially if this was an area they usually perform well in, they may need to manage their time better. Or if they postpone or procrastinate on projects and homework it may indicate your child is not able to keep up with the workload. As children progress to harder grades a delay is expected, so as a parent you want to look out for a pattern.
- Lacking confidence in class and on homework can become an issue. This can be in one particular subject or just about school work and homework in general. Be sure to reassure your child and offer support but keep an eye on if this becomes an ongoing concern.
- Slipping grades is usually a result of one or more of the items listed above and every parents worst nightmare. Watching your child slowly slip from a B+ to and B- overall or in any one subject is likely not a concern. What you want to look out for is constantly seeing homework grades come back that are far below what they typically bring home; or test scores in one or more subjects continually slipping from and A to a C- or a D. Be sure to take note if your child avoids the topic of their grades with you, or you continually notice progress reports and report cards stop arriving or coming home with your child.
Any one of these is cause for concern and a combination of any of them can start causing anyone anxiety. Watching your child struggle in any area is hard to endure and even more difficult on your child. TutorNerd has been around for over 10 years and has knowledgeable tutors ready to assist your child with his or her specific situation and needs. Plus, we specialize in online tutoring services even for young K-5 students—convenient, effective, and safe during this time of COVID 19.
What Should My Child Do Over Summer?
This annual struggle of occupying your child’s time for the two and half months they are out of school for summer break seems to be a revolving issue for parents and children alike. These days it is well understood and accepted that students taking a complete mental break over the summer months can have huge short and long term effects on their brain function and classroom performance. There’s also the question of supervision—do you, your spouse, your parents, siblings or even neighbors have time to keep the kids occupied for the roughly 16 hours a day they’ll be awake for the roughly 75 days of summer? We suggest a holistic approach communicated to the family that is planned in advance and structured. In this section we’ll lay out our suggestions to the summer break dilemma!
Plan, plan, and plan
Most schools get out around June, usually mid June. We suggest planning begins at the start of April to allow two full months. Talk to your spouse, your family and your in-laws and see who’s willing and able to help out. If you know the parents of your child’s friends talk to them too. See who is willing and able to help, then you and your spouse communicate with your employers and see what they’d be willing to allow you to do - work remote 2 days a week, work longer hours during some days so you can go home earlier or come in later other days, or even have one additional day off all together.
Once you’ve coordinated with your employer and have you and your spouse’s availability, check with the rest of those who were willing to help and schedule a few long weekends with the grandparents or aunts and uncles. Plan a family staycation or full vacation - get the longer periods planned out then work on filling in the day-to-day. Coordinate with your child’s friends' parents to plan one set of parents taking the full group of kids for one day a week or trading off weekends. Planning out two months in advance allows you and those who will help you time to move things around and properly prepare for dates and times to be of assistance. Knowing who will watch them and at what times is a great first step.
Be structured yet flexible
Our solution to this step is, after you’ve planned out the longer periods - family vacations, trips to visit immediate and extended family and days and long weekends with the parents of the friends - you can begin to plan for things week by week. Have a weekly “bucket list”. We suggest a mix of fun, educational and relaxing activities. You can even have planning out the activities be a family activity and plan it out all at once prior to summer starting or plan the week ahead during the week before - perhaps every Sunday night. Create a schedule that will be adhered to as well. Select a reasonable wake up time and bed time, schedule a minimum of one meal together as a family each day and at least one weekday for your child to sleep in (along with weekends).
Sign your child up for at least one activity or class
This will add to the structured approach we mentioned in the beginning. It will also be less planning on your end and allow YOU some much needed YOU time - if nothing else just to get other things done you may not otherwise have time to do. The following are some of our favorite suggestions:
- Summer camp - This can be just a general day camp where there will be an array of activities or a themed camp - sports, movies, art, theater, band, etc.
- Daily or weekly classes - Do something your child enjoys that perhaps during the school year you and the family are too busy to get involved with. It could be art, dance, science, sports, etc.
- Summer school or tutoring - Either to help them in an area they struggle in, to prepare them for the grade they’ll be going into when fall returns, or just to keep their mind sharp. We can help you get started with tutoring.
Bring the education out in all that they do
This one is important because it will serve as the basis of all the activities you plan for the summer. This will also help keep your child’s mind sharp throughout the two and half months, perhaps in ways you and they will be surprised at. It will take some additional planning and research on your part or whoever will be in charge of the activity. We’ve put together some of our favorite examples below:
Document the experience
Building memories is important, for you and for them. We suggest encouraging your child to write their activities in a daily journal. It doesn’t have to be long, simply a few sentences or paragraphs of what they did that day. They and you can look back on this with fond memories and perhaps it can even be something they pass on to their children. Taking family photos and even selfies while out and about doing your summer activities is another great way to document the fun of the summer. A fun idea would be to make a family summer collage or even scrapbook. This captures the events in a fun, organized and creative way - this way it will also last a long time.
Summer is such a magical time in a child’s life, they will create some of their fondest childhood memories with you and your family along with their friends. Cherish this time and help them make the best of it. We wish you all the fun you and your family could have.
Despite its length, this guide is by no means fully comprehensive. Many challenges will arise when brining a child through elementary school. Many of these are unavoidable. The key is not to avoid them completely, but to be prepared to handle them gracefully, in a way that actually sets up your child for greater success.
The absolute best way to address any academic situation is to work with an expert, like those on our team at TutorNerd. Contact us now and we will discuss your individual academic situation in depth.
Thank you for checking out our guide to elementary school. We hope you found it helpful. For more academic insights, visit our blog and check back regularly.