Graduating kindergarten and demonstrating readiness for first grade is about so much more than counting and letter recognition. Most parents aren’t paying enough attention to behavioral and social skills that are necessary for continued growth. Many first grade reading programs are beginning to focus much more on fluency and comprehension, both of which require a foundation in social emotional skills.
Check out the FREE first grade readiness checklist below to make sure your child is well-prepared for first grade! This list takes into account many state standards; however, these first grade readiness skills go beyond basic academics.
Even if you’re planning on homeschooling next year, it’s important for parents to set an example, maintain high expectations, and be realistic about what first graders can accomplish. Although this post is written with public school first graders in mind, many of the concepts apply to any educational setting.
This first grade readiness checklist is available below in a free, printable pdf, and more details are included in the sections below.
First Grade Readiness Checklist – Free Printable PDF
I don’t want to make you wait and read further if you’re just looking for a quick printable. This printable will give you plenty of work to do with your rising first grader.
Social/Emotional Skills on the First Grade Readiness Checklist
We want rising first graders to have mastered some basic social and emotional skills and kindergarten. Namely, we like to see that they can follow classroom rules, treat one another with kindness, take turns, and wait patiently for attention.
We like to see them beginning to solve their own relational problems when appropriate, rather than always turning to tattling.
When something is wrong, we need them to be comfortable expressing their needs or wants.
We also want first graders to be able to work in collaborative groups without whining, complaining a lot, or refusing to share work.
The first grade readiness checklist covers some of these skills, but I encourage you to watch for them during play dates and other social outings. It’s important that first graders are emotionally capable of transitioning into first grade with less supervision!
Academic Behaviors and Mindset on the First Grade Readiness Checklist
When first graders arrive at school at the end of summer, we hope they will enter with good habits for learning and classroom participation: sitting in a circle or on a rug, along with other first graders; listening attentively and asking questions when they don’t understand something spoken by an adult; working independently without disturbing others around them; and following routines and procedures quickly and smoothly.
And first graders need to be able to transition from one activity to another independently, where they can put away materials and clean up after themselves before moving on to something else (like lunch or free play).
We also want kids entering first grade to know that it’s safe to make mistakes. Mistakes are wonderful opportunities for learning! This is sometimes missing in early elementary school, especially for children who have perfectionist tendencies.
Students need practice with persevering when something is challenging. Learned helplessness is a problem in schools. It can look like first graders giving up and checking out when things get difficult and/or boring. If your child struggles with learned helplessness, here is a great resource to help you work on this at home.
We also want first graders to start thinking about their own responsibilities as part of a team (classroom). This section of the first grade readiness checklist is all about the soft skills kids need to be successful in a classroom.
Literacy Skills on the First Grade Readiness Checklist
Literacy is complicated, and there are many components to a solid reading foundation. Here’s what your kindergartener should have learned before proceeding to first grade. Each of these sections is included in the first grade readiness checklist. If they are struggling across multiple areas, make good use of your summer! Even 15 minutes a day of reading together can make a huge impact.
Reading – Comprehension
If you are reading a first grade level book or appropriate picture book to your child, he or she should be able to make basic inferences, predictions, and tell you about the pictures they’re forming in their minds. Practicing this at home is really important. Kids need lots of experience with slowing down to think critically about their reading, and it can be super fun for them if you ask the right questions.
If they make a correct inference about a book, they should also be able to point to evidence in the text. So for example, if they say, “I think Sally feels sad,” they should then be able to point to her face in the pictures, or point to the part of the story where it says tears are running down Sally’s face.
We want them to retell main ideas from a non-fiction text after hearing or reading it once. If it’s fiction, we like them to be able to talk about the beginning, middle and end of the story, as well as describe the setting.
They should be able to name main characters in a book, and hopefully talk a bit about their feelings and relationships to one another.
Kids should be connecting to the text in some way, like saying, “Oh! I remember when we saw the crocodile at the zoo!” or perhaps, “She’s feeling worried about the first day of school. I remember one time my brother cried at daycare drop off!”
Reading – Decoding
Students should be able to recognize all letters and match them to their sounds by the start of first grade.
We expect students to be reading CVC words (consonant-vowel-consonant, like CAT and DOG), CCVC words (consonant, consonant, vowel, consonant, like TRAP, CHOP, and FROG). They should also be reading CVCC words (consonant, vowel, consonant, consonant, like COLD, GOLF, and BUMP).
By first grade, kids will demonstrate good phonological awareness by being able to produce a bunch of rhyming words in a set. If you say cat, they should be able to respond with hat, mat, and flat, for example.
Struggling to rhyme in first grade is a red flag for dyslexia. It’s usually considered too early to test, but if your child struggles with rhyming as they enter first grade, keep a close eye on their progress, and if it stalls out, request an evaluation.
They should also be able to immediately group words together that begin with the same sound. For example, if shown a picture of a bear, ball, bat and cloud, they should be able to identify the cloud as having a different “onset” or first letter sound.
They should be able to count the different sounds they hear in a word. For example, in rainbow, we hear R-AI-N-B-OW (5 sounds, even though it’s 7 letters). To work on listening for the sounds in words, check out the fun strategy I teach using Popits!
Reading – Print Awareness
Rising first graders should have print awareness. If you put a book in front of them, they should know the front from the back, and turn pages in an orderly manner. They should demonstrate understanding that print moves from top to bottom and left to right.
If they don’t know this yet, now’s the time to increase the amount of reading you do at home. Kids don’t know this stuff automatically unless there’s practice!
They should also be exposed to many different types of writing, ranging from poetry to nonfiction, drama, folktales and fairy tales. It’s normal to have several favorite books, but make sure they’re at least exposed to many different genres.
If you’re looking for summer reading to enjoy together while you wait for first grade to begin, check out this fantastic book list. Reading together every day and talking about stories is one of the easiest ways to naturally build literacy skills that are on the first grade readiness checklist.
Reading – Fluency
When first-graders can read a first grade level text (at an appropriate pace) with good expression and comprehension, that’s when we know they’re reading at grade level. When kids sound great when reading, rather than robotic or choppy, that’s called fluency.
It doesn’t matter what kind of book it is: informational text, fiction, or poems. If a first grader can read it out loud and understand the meaning behind it all while maintaining a steady pace and proper phrasing, then we consider them fluent readers.
Fluency is necessary in order for a child to have reading comprehension. After all, if they’re spending all their mental energy trying to read the words on the page, there’s nothing left over for them to imagine or think critically about the passage.
First graders should be able to write their names with ease, and print all lowercase and upper case letters.
When producing short sentences, students should have appropriate spacing between both letters and the words in a sentence.
They should be able to spell first grade level words with some degree of accuracy, particularly basic sight words like a, an, the, and CVC words. It’s normal to be reading better than spelling at this age.
A rising first grader should be able to write three sentences that tell a story with a beginning, middle and end, and illustrate it, as well. An example might be: “I woke up. I went to school. I played.”
Listening and Speaking
Kindergarten graduates should have learned active listening skills, and they need to be able to ask questions to clarify information from an adult or friend. Their answers to questions should have multiple words. They should also be able to restate instructions and follow them. We want them to be able to speak at an appropriate pace and at the right volume.
Math Skills on the First Grade Readiness Checklist
Overall first graders should enter with a broad understanding of numbers and counting principles. They should be able to count to 100 by memory, and have strong one-to-one correspondence. That means that they can point to objects and count them one at a time, without messing up.
They should have a firm grasp that adding means putting together, and subtracting means taking apart.
This first grade readiness checklist suggests mastery with the following math concepts: addition facts within 10 (0+9), subtraction facts within 10 (4-3), skip counting by 2s, 5s, and 10s to 100, count forward and backwards from any number up to 100, and begin to recognize many shapes, beyond just circle, square, triangle and rectangle.
We like to see kids this age applying math to everyday situations. They should be noticing and talking about money and be able to identify coins, asking questions about analog clocks, and counting out their own goldfish on a plate during snack time.
Rising first graders should be able to talk about how one number is larger or smaller than another.
In first grade, kids should already be able to talk about measurement, by using non-traditional tools. For example, this pencil is as long as four pink erasers.
Finally, entering first graders should understand that money is used to buy and sell things, and that money is earned through work. They should be able to identify coins.
The first grade readiness checklist looks so much smaller for math skills, but that’s not because it’s less important. There’s just a LOT of practice that has to go into basic number sense – and it doesn’t take many words to explain!
Science Knowledge & Skills on the First Grade Readiness Checklist
First graders should have already had exposure to the scientific process; they should know about conducting investigations safely both indoors and outdoors. They should know about asking a question, making a hypothesis, and then trying to find answers in the natural world.
They should be able to make observations and record their data using pictures, numbers, and simple words.
First graders should be familiar with tools used to measure and study, like thermometers, magnifying glasses, nets, notebooks, and magnets.
They should be able to categorize and sort things by color, size and shape.
Students need to already know about living vs. nonliving items by first grade.
They also need to be able to name the most basic parts of different animals and plants.
Finally, they need to spend time observing the moon, sun, and stars, and recording or illustrating what they notice.
The first grade readiness checklist for science focuses on the importance of discovery, research and tools, because those are the foundation for learning science no matter how old the child may be.
Social Studies Knowledge & Skills on the First Grade Readiness Checklist
First graders are expected to understand the basics of different holidays, celebrations and customs observed in their part of the country.
They should know some key historical figures and be able to talk about their contributions to your state or country. Some examples are George Washington, Martin Luther King, Jr., Sam Houston (in Texas), and Abraham Lincoln.
Entering first graders should know something about the purpose of maps and globes, and have some practice making basic maps of their school or home. They should be able to find their own home state and country on a globe and notice what’s nearby.
Students should be able to differentiate between a want and a need, and understand that families can’t have everything they want. First graders are expected to understand that things are purchased with money, and money comes from work.
First graders should also enter with a basic concept of rules and laws – they should already be familiar with the rules of conduct at home, in first grade classrooms, and on school buses. They should have some idea that all people are required to follow laws to keep safe in the world.
First graders should begin the year having learned about good citizenship, and will have had exposure to historical figures that have exemplified good citizenship.
First graders should understand the concept of a timeline and a calendar.
Perhaps most importantly, kids should start first grade understanding some basic concepts of diversity, that we come from different cultures and traditions, and that we can all contribute meaningfully to our communities regardless of our backgrounds.
By first grade, students should be able to do basic first grade-level work. If you think your first grader isn’t prepared for first grade, ask yourself the following questions:
Can she count and read at a first grade level?
Does she want to learn new things, or does she cower from challenge?
Are we taking time to explore the world around us, and ask questions?
If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, there’s still time before September! Enroll in kindergarten summer school if necessary to help bring your child up to speed, but you may also just want to be a bit more intentional with your summer plans. When kids feel confident and competent about their abilities, they love learning. I hope my first grade readiness checklist helps you set priorities as you enjoy your time together this summer.