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When Should Kids Learn to Read, Write, and Do Math?

Your child starting to read is just one of many educational milestones to watch for as a parent

When kids learn math: Milestones that matter continued...

Ages 6-10: learning math

Kids learn to:

  • count and understand numbers
  • understand quantities such as how many items are in a set of objects
  • identify basic shapes like squares and triangles by first grade
  • tell time and understand the value of different denominations of money by second grade
  • understand the place-value structure in our "base 10" numbering system
  • compare and represent whole numbers and decimals
  • understand fractions and do word problems by fourth grade

Kids generally learn basic math skills on this timeline:

  • first grade: kids learn to add and subtract with single digits
  • second grade: kids learn to add and subtract with double digits
  • third and fourth grades: kids learn to multiply and divide

Ages 11-13: learning math

Kids learn to:

  • perform more complex math problems with multiple steps
  • work with ease with fractions, decimals and percents
  • do beginning algebra and geometry
  • fully understand concepts of weights, measures, and percentages

When kids don't learn: Seek help

How can you know if your child needs extra help? Often a child who's struggling will show signs of unhappiness, says Horowitz, giving you a social or emotional barometer that clues you into their frustration. "That's when you definitely jump into motion."

To find out if there's really a problem, work with your child and gather data, says Horowitz. "If you're concerned about whether your child is reading or spelling at the level he should - with the accuracy and precision he should - investigate. Read with your child and see. Write with your child and see. Does it take three times longer? Then talk with your child's teacher about it."

Graham agrees. But base your assessment of writing on at least three compositions, he says, since a child who's struggling may have missed key instructions the first time around.

Some kids simply have minor lags in learning. But even when parents suspect a learning disability, they tend to wait almost a year before seeking help, often to avoid stigmatizing their child. But early intervention can help. Research shows that the best time to help a child with reading challenges, for example, is in the first two years of school.

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