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What Should First Graders Be Expected to Learn???

Updated on May 6, 2016


Start early. Teach more. Our brains are wired for learning.


The history of American education for the past 100 years has been an exercise in chipping away at content. Or, more commonly, hacking away. Our top educators are good at coming up with excuses for teaching less and less.

Children are in school for 1,000 hours a year, or 12,000 hours from K-12. With hardly any effort, children could learn a huge amount. Instead, schools provide busy-work but refuse to teach substance.

Just to turn this issue once again in the right direction, here’s a suggested list of what can be taught in the first grade, EASILY AND TO ALL STUDENTS.

Remember that kids are in first grade for what must seem to them a lifetime. Why add insult to injury by keeping them as ignorant on the last day as on the first day?

Gilbert Highet
Gilbert Highet


The small amount of information listed below could easily be taught (always with lots of visuals) in the equivalent of a single day. Then you teach it again a month or so later, again a month later, and so on. That way, at the end of the year, the children know this information with almost no effort. Meanwhile, each child is learning to read and count, so now you have a child whose education is truly off to a good start.


The Sun--actually it’s a small star--has eight planets going around it. The third planet from the Sun is called Earth. That’s where we live.

Closer, we see Earth has three oceans, Atlantic, Pacific and Indian. (In fact, the North Pole area is nothing but water and could be called the Arctic Ocean; but it’s almost always frozen so it’s not usually referred to as an ocean.)

Earth has seven continents: North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and Antarctica...

First-graders should know the city and state they live in, and two or three nearby states, especially the ones mentioned in weather reports and local news. They should know the names of their own country and the neighboring countries, Canada and Mexico.

History is most easily taught by explaining the holidays as they occur: Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, Groundhog Day, Presidents’ Day, etc.

General science: children learn that ice, water and steam are three states of same thing, and that water can become ice or heated to become steam. They know that snow falling out of the sky is the same as the ice in the refrigerator, and that the condensation on the window was the minute before invisible vapor.

Children should look at maps and diagrams whenever appropriate. One good example: a diagram of the classroom showing each desk, etc. (Maps, diagrams, drawings, and models are representations of something else. Practice with making and using such items is good preparation for almost every subject.)

That’s it.

This list is simply a reasonable minimum. Probably, a great deal more could be taught to most children in the first grade. As Gilbert Highet, a great teacher, said: “No one knows, no one can even guess how much knowledge a child will want and, if it is presented in the right way, will digest."


In the second grade, the same material would be taught again but with obvious additions--more countries, the names of rivers and mountains, more historical events, etc. In this way, the child’s knowledge base is widened and deepened in a coherent, systematic way.

Only one thing is needed to implement this simple plan, an Education Establishment that believes in education as the teaching of knowledge.

(This brief list can also serve as a handy litmus test. Educators who maintain that children don’t need to learn this material reveal themselves to be anti-education. They are the problem we are trying to fix.)


On my site I have a lot of articles about teaching. One is especially relevant here: "28: Tips For Helping Your Kids Do Better In School" (for ages 5-12).

On hubpages, the related articles are: THEY NEED TO READ--First Steps in Teaching Children to Read and Price's Easy Arithmetic For First Grade.

Do American Students Know Anything deals with the same theme--teach more, learn more.

What's the worst that can happen if you tell somebody about something new? They forget it. But probably not entirely. A trace remains. Then when you teach it again, they feel in control: Yeah, I've heard about that.

That's why the best strategy is to teach and teach again, as this video explains...



You may wonder why this hub is even necessary. That would probably indicate that your children go to a good school where they have to learn basic information. Lucky you.

Our national tragedy is that we have so many public schools which do NOT require children to learn facts. There is much chatter and make-believe; but in truth the schools simply do not believe in knowledge. In the book "The Conspiracy of Ignorance" by Martin Gross, there is a seminal anecdote that tells you everything you need to know about the intellectual decline of our Education Establishment.

E. D. Hirsch was in California explaining his ideas about "cultural literacy." He had a meeting with principals and administrators at which he was asked what types of facts first-graders should know. Hirsch suggested the names of the three oceans. One of the participants asked what value this information had for the children? And here's the punch line: "No one at the meeting was willing to defend the idea of teaching such facts to young children."

Those principals and administrators are the problem, and the reason our public schools are so mediocre. But beyond the actual officials, there is the mentality, the educational philosophy, that has wrecked their thinking. So I find myself insisting over and over that facts are fun and knowledge is power! I believe that any school built on those two ideas will automatically turn out to be a good school. Pass it on.


Bruce Price is an author, artist, poet and education activist. His main site is but he also has 150 education articles, videos, and reviews on other sites.


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    • peachpurple profile image


      3 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      firs grader learn about alphabets and numbers, morals but never about history stuff or modern day related matters

    • BruceDPrice profile imageAUTHOR

      Bruce Deitrick Price 

      4 years ago from Virginia Beach, Va.

      Sounds like something a public school superintendent would say. You have made up an imaginary conflict. Half an hour or an hour every day on some sort of knowledge or academic activity is too much for your kid to handle? That's not even remotely possible.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Wow. Wow. What negativity. Do you understand anything about how young children learn or what is developmentally appropriate learning? As a homeschooler my child learns far more than your list including that there are 5 oceans not 3 by the way. At the same time, I appreciate that a 6 year old is not always ready to learn all of these facts much less even be ready to read. What about just letting young children be young children who learn far more by free play. They have plenty of years ahead for formal education when they are older and developmental more ready for this kind of learning. There are far more important things to do as a six year old than learn a list of facts. Why repeat a bunch of facts over and over when an older child can learn them once? Sounds like what you purpose is a waste of time - a young child's precious time.


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