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What Skills Should a Child Have Before Entering Second Grade?

by Debbie McCarson

Most school districts refer to Common Core standards when choosing their second grade curriculum. These core standards are a result of a federal education initiative designed to unify the states with standards-based education reform. This ensures students across the country are learning the same concepts at the same time, especially language arts and math objectives. Before entering second grade, students should master the skills presented and reinforced by the first grade Common Core standards detailed below.

Operations in Math

Before entering second grade, students should be able to perform addition and subtraction within 20. This includes solving word problems in which the sum of three whole numbers is less than 20. They must understand the concepts represented by the following signs: equals, plus and minus, greater than and less than. They should be able to count to 120. They need to understand place value including tens and ones and be able to add and subtract multiples of ten in the range of 10-90.

Measurement and Data

Students entering second grade should be able to tell time to the hour and half-hour on analog and digital clocks. They should be able to measure an object in whole units, and compare the lengths of three objects and place them in order by length. They should be able to organize data into up to three categories. For example, they should be able to graph how many students in the class have brown hair, black hair, or blonde hair.


Before entering second grade, students should be able to distinguish between long and short vowel sounds and use phonics to decode unfamiliar words. They should recognize grade-level sight words that are spelled irregularly. When exposed to a reading selection, they should be able to ask appropriate questions about the text, as well as answer questions about it. They should be able to retell stories using descriptive details. They will need to know the difference between fiction and non-fiction, or books that tell stories and give information. They should be able to read grade-level text with fluency and comprehension and understand the point of view from which a story is being narrated.


By the time they reach second grade, students should be able to print upper and lower-case letters and determine when to use them. They should recognize that sentences begin with an upper case letter and end with a punctuation mark. They should employ proper subject-verb agreement and verb tenses to indicate time. They should be able to produce writing samples that express an opinion, give information about a topic, or tell a story. They should also be able to bring a sense of closure to the writing.

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