Elementary school learning is like building a house—the concepts your child learns early on will serve as the foundation for everything that comes after. Catching up later is a lot harder than keeping up. So what should parents of young children focus on?

Don’t miss school!

Missing school means missing out on learning. One of the most important things that parents can innovate_public_schools_elementary_articledo is make sure their child is at school and ready to learn. It may seem that elementary school is an OK time for kids to miss school, but it’s actually crucial that young children are in school every day. Starting as early as kindergarten, missing school may cause students to lag in third grade reading.

Read and do math at grade level by third grade

Third grade is a critical point in both math and reading. In math, students will be introduced to the concept of fractions. In reading, go from “learning to read” to “reading to learn,” that is, using reading to acquire new skills and concepts. If students aren’t strong readers by this point, they’ll start missing out on learning across all subjects. One study shows that children who are reading proficiently by the end of third grade are four times more likely to graduate from high school on time. Schools teach reading in the first three grades and past that point, children are not so much learning to read but using their reading skills to learn other topics.

Go deeper: What’s so important about third grade?

Make Sure You’re Really On Track

Being on grade level doesn’t mean just getting passing classes and moving on each year. The annual state tests (CAASSP) are an important tool for checking whether students have mastered what they are supposed to have learned at each grade. Make sure your child meets or exceeds standards on the test. If not, talk with your school about the plan for getting your child back on track.

Talk about the Future

Elementary school is a time for students to feel excited about learning for its own sake. But it doesn’t hurt to talk about the future. The key thing is for students to understand that a world of possibilities is open to them, including college. Elementary school is too early to start talking about the specifics of college. Instead, focus on creating some positive buzz, giving the impression of college as something that is distant but exciting.

One Key Thing: Read together at home!

Shared reading—taking turns reading a book and asking lots of questions—has been shown to strengthen not just a child’s language skills but also imagination and memory. Reading with your child also helps make reading fun. That’s important, because research shows that reading for pleasure has a huge impact on students’ school performance.

Also, a study by Professor emeritus Dominic Massaro, at Santa Cruz University, showed that reading to children helped develop their ability to listen, and “good listeners make good readers.” Here are some great tips for reading to your child in the early grades.

How are Silicon Valley Schools Doing on Getting All Students Reading by Third Grade?

Across the Bay Area, only 56% of all students and 32% of Latino students were proficient in English Language Arts by the end of 3rd grade, as of 2012-13, the last year for which state data are available.

Resources to Learn More

How to choose an elementary school.

PBS Parents has a lot of great resources for parents, including sections on grade-by-grade learning, how to choose a school, and parent involvement.

Want more tips like the ones above for learning at home? See the PTA’s guide to the Common Core (en Español) or the homework help page from GreatSchools

Keep track of grade-by-grade curriculum standards from the Common Core and general expectations from GreatSchools

See our Guide to the Common Core and the text of the standards (en Español).

Raising Strong Readers: Strategies for parents and educators to encourage children to read — from infancy to high school