Elementary School Basics

Elementary School Basics

Tiffani Chin (Founder/Executive Director, EdBoost Learning Center) gives expert video advice on: How does elementary school differ from preschool?; Is the transition from Preschool to Kindergarten hard?; What math skills are taught in elementary school? and more...

What is "elementary school"?

Elementary school is the primary grades, leading up to secondary school, which is middle school and high school. It's often K-6, sometimes it's K-5. Elementary school is the training ground in children they learn all the basics. They learn how to sit in their desks. They learn how to raise their hand. Kindergartners in elementary school don't know how to line up. They learn all the real basics like that in elementary: cooperation, citizenship, and then all the basic academic skills.

How does elementary school differ from preschool?

The one major difference between elementary school and preschool is that elementary school is mandatory. It's regulated so there are national standards. Every state has state standards, and these are the things that are supposed to be taught in elementary school. Preschool is voluntary and private, although there are some public ones. Some preschools are academic, some are totally playtime and some are pure daycare. There's just a huge, huge range in preschools, whereas you'll find a lot more uniformity in elementary schools.

Is the transition from Preschool to Kindergarten hard?

For some kids, the transition from preschool to kindergarten is very easy. They sometimes go to a pre-Kindergarten that's right on the elementary school campus, and they just walk over to the next classroom and it's not a big deal. For others who are in very play-oriented preschools, sometimes it's hard to move into an Elementary school. Kindergarten is their first experience of having to sit on the rug with the others, sit at their little table and actually do work. So for some, the transition to Kindergarten is difficult.

What subjects do elementary school students study?

The most important subjects that elementary school children study are math and reading. They also do some social studies and a little bit of science. Elementary students usually do a fair amount of arts and crafts, along with P.E. Often in elementary schools, the teachers have a little bit of free reign to introduce the subjects they particularly like, whether it's writing or science, or anything else.

What math skills are taught in elementary school?

Math skills taught in elementary school start from the really basic number sense skills: how to count, whether eight more than or less than ten - those really basic math skills. The next math skills taught are types of computation - addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division of numbers of all sizes. Usually in elementary schools follow all forms of computation applied to fractions and decimals. Then there's kind of a smattering of geometry and now, especially in California, they do a decent hunk of algebra before they get out of elementary school.

What English skills are taught in elementary school?

Elementary reading and language arts skills range from your real basic prereading, preliteracy skills, knowing the alphabets, knowing the sounds, basic phonicsthrough reading and they'll be reading good size chapter books by the time they finish the fifth grade. And writing, first graders should be able to write a sentence, second graders should be able to write a paragraph, and by the time they finish fifth or sixth grade they should be able to write a pretty coherent five paragraph essay. Three are three main aspects of reading that schools focus on and that kids and teachers should focus on. You've got your fluency, which is just the ability to put words together and read them out. You've got vocabulary, which is knowing what the words mean, and then you've got comprehension, which is the ability to know what is going on in the book and that ranges from picking out kind of small details, what was that guy's name, what happened to him to making bigger picture comprehension assessments which is, you know, what do you think is going to happen next or why do you think he did that or why are those dogs and cats mean to one another, that sort of thing. Little kids read really basic, usually phonics, readers, what we used to call primers or Basil readers, all the kind of short vowels; they're are all there together. And then they progress into harder books, really simple chapter books, ones that are basically picture books, but they are broken down into the small sort of size book and they're broken down into chapters, and then they move on to the harder chapter books which usually look more like adult books. This is a particularly fat one but they're got smaller print, they've got more chapters, they've got more complex stories, and for a lot of kids graduating into chapter books is a really big deal.

What science skills are taught in elementary school?

Elementary school science skills are the simpler versions of the same core subjects you're going to learn in high school. You learn basic earth science, basic life science, biology and your basic physical science: chemistry and physics. Throughout elementary school you get a smattering of subjects. Nothing too intense, but hopefully just enough to whet the children's appetites and make them see astronomy, animals, etc. as cool.

What social study topics are taught in elementary school?

Like science, elementary schools don't tend to do a ton of social studies. I think we used to do more than we do now, the little kids focus on things like map reading and real basic geography types of stuff, typically in fourth or fifth grade they'll do something on states, particularly their own state and then in fifth or sixth grade they'll do U.S. history, which is kind of a basic version that'll lead up to the U.S. history they'll take again in middle school and high school. Some basic citizenship stuff, some basic government stuff, and it depends, depending a lot on the teacher and how much they work in. A lot of the literature books also have a good amount of history, they've got stories that are set in historical periods, and that's the way a lot of teachers bring history into the classroom even though it's not a huge priority right now.

What school supplies will my elementary school student need?

The basic school supplies that your elementary school student will need include a little backpack that they'll put stuff in. Elementary students also need some kind of organization system; they should have a calendar or planner. A lot of elementary schools hand these out to students, and this supply is useful for keeping track of their homework assignments, especially from third grade and upwards. Children need to be supplied with pens, pencils, erasers, etc. A lot of elementary teachers have pretty particular requests - they want one big binder with little tabs in it, or they want lots of little folders for different subjects. I often tell parents of children beginning elementary school, "You know what, don't even worry about the school supplies shopping until you know what the teacher wants, and then you can go and get exactly what they want your child to have."