How Is First Grade Different From Kindergarten?

Kindergarten
Picture by tolmacho

In some ways, first grade is not all that different from kindergarten. Students learn the same sorts of things in kindergarten and first grade. Social development in first grade is not all that different from kindergarten. Still, there are ways in which first grade is different from kindergarten. Knowing the differences can help you prepare to help your child make that all-important transition between the kindergarten and first-grade years.

Kindergarten in the Time of Covid

In the time of Covid, early education changed radically. Online schooling is most definitely not ideal for young children. Kindergarten is a time of learning about school and the rules and how to interact with other students. Ideally, kindergarten provides the building blocks of physical, social, and emotional development and the basics of language, literacy, thinking, and cognitive skills. These building blocks develop in groups of other students with the support and guidance of the classroom teacher. When classroom instruction is online, the children miss out on this personal and vital aspect of their education. Kindergartners, who experience online learning, enter first grade without the needed skills for success. First-grade teachers end up with extra work to bring the students to the level necessary for first-grade success.

How Kindergarten Has Changed Over Time

In the past, a big difference between kindergarten and first grade was the amount of time the children spent in school. Half-day kindergarten is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Kindergartners and first graders now spend about the same amount of time each day inside the school.  

Kindergarten used to be more free-flowing socialization with more play. 

Over time, the curriculum has moved to a more academic approach due to state standards and testing requirements. More time is spent on activities done at desks, and movement around the room is more regulated.  

In the past, first grade was where children used to learn how to read. Now, there is a push to start reading in kindergarten.

Kindergarten – Bridge from Preschool to First Grade

Kindergarten provides the basic building blocks of physical, social, and emotional development. It also provides the foundation for learning in a classroom, where children learn rules and interact with teachers and each other.

Kindergarten Curriculum Focus

Kindergarten – Reading and Writing

Your kindergartner will learn the name of, read and write all of the letters in the alphabet. They will be able to recognize, pronounce, and learn to read about 30 sight words. Additionally, they will learn to write short words, such as hat, red, and dog. They’ll be able to write simple sentences, like “The cat sat down.”

Kindergarten – Numbers & Math

Kindergarten children will learn to recognize, write, order, and count objects up to 30. They’ll also add and subtract small numbers.

Kindergarten – Concepts

Kindergarten students will learn how to name and describe common shapes. By the end of the year, they will identify, sort, and classify objects according to their size, color, and shape. What should kindergarten students know about the seasons and time? They can understand the basic concepts at this age. For example, if they leave for school at 7 a.m., they can identify the time of everyday events to the nearest hour. Dinner is at 6:00 p.m. Fully grasping the concept of time will take longer because they are concrete thinkers, and time is abstract.

First Grade Curriculum Focus

First Grade – Reading and Writing

By the end of first grade, the student will read at least 150 site words. They will be able to read grade-level books easily and can comprehend them too. Spelling lists will include three and four-letter words that the students will use to write clear sentences. Students will begin to write short paragraphs with up to 4 sentences by the year’s end. They’ll also write simple short stories about things that they have experienced or like doing.  

First Grade – Math & Measurement

The students should be able to count, read, write and order numbers. First graders can subtract from a whole number that is 20 or less. They will be able to add and subtract two-digit numbers. They will learn to use the signs for more than, less than, and equal to.

Students will begin to learn geometric concepts such as length, weight, and volume. They’ll measure length using small things like pencils or toy cars. They’ll also learn about identifying and describing common shapes.

First Grade – Time & Money

First graders will learn how to tell time to the nearest half-hour using a clock face. They will know the days of the week and months of the year.  

Your first grader will learn to identify different coins, understand the value of each one, and combine different amounts (for example, two nickels equals one dime).


In conclusion, kindergarten is more of a classroom-based, teacher-led environment where children learn through hands-on activities. They understand and practice social skills like taking turns, sharing, playing fair, working together, and showing empathy. They are learning to manage their emotions and understand their feelings, and how to follow directions. 

First grade is a more academic setting, where children start learning about the alphabet, counting, fractions, and the meaning of words. Homework involves reading, writing, and doing math problems. They also learn how to get along with others. They continue to work on their social skills, but most importantly, they broaden the types of things they are studying, creating a foundation for success in the future school years.