Helping Elementary Students Transition from Grade to Grade

By Dr. Raymond Huntington

The difference between kindergarteners and fifth-graders is pretty significant. As your child moves through elementary school, you might wonder how you can be the most supportive. Here are a few tips for helping your elementary school student transition from grade to grade:

  1. Promote organizational skills from the start. You might not realize it, but a big goal of the early elementary teachers is to help students cultivate strong organizational systems. Empower your child to take this seriously, whether by having one of your first-grader’s chores be to tidy the homework station and supplies each day or by having your fifth-grader use a planner and make to-do lists. Create a few ground rules for good organization like keeping a clean desk and bedroom and cleaning out the backpack each week. Then, in each grade, develop other chores and routines at home that support the teacher’s efforts to promote good organization.
  2. Teach your child to create and stick a routine. The later in elementary school your child is, the more he or she will be expected to work independently at home and in school. Discuss a good homework and nightly routine with your child. Talk about when your child is most alert and attentive to focus on homework and discuss how to arrange family time, dinner and extracurricular activities around the schedule. Revisit the routine when it seems to need a tune-up. Hang a family calendar and encourage your child to write due dates, activities and other obligations on it.
  3. Deal with skill gaps early in the year. Don’t let lingering gaps in knowledge grow bigger from grade to grade. At the start of each school year, it is important to check in with teachers to make sure your child has the knowledge he or she needs to succeed in the grade ahead. If your child isn’t on grade level at the beginning of the year, work with the teacher to correct any issues or contact Huntington to schedule an assessment.
  4. Talk about your role this year with homework support. Obviously, a child in first grade needs more hand-holding on homework than a child in fifth grade. Here’s a general guide that will help you offer the right level of help:

Kindergarten – Parents should be on hand for help during homework and model good homework practices such as neatness and following directions. Parents should read with their children nightly.

First grade – Parents should encourage their children to attempt homework independently. They should be available for questions and help. Parents should read to their children and have their children read to them as directed by teachers.

Second grade – Children should be doing homework independently with parents on hand for support. They should build reader independence but parents should continue to have their children read aloud to them.

Third grade – Parents should encourage their children to keep track of their own homework and school responsibilities and read independently and/or aloud to a parent each night.

Fourth grade – Parents should foster time management and organizational skills more than in past grades and encourage their children to and reach out for help when needed and read nightly.

Fifth grade – This year, parents should ensure their children have a good homework routine, good study routine, strong organizational skills (including planner use) and solid study skills for things like test preparation and school projects.


  1. Build study habits. By the time your child reaches fifth grade, he or she should be comfortable starting homework, finishing tasks without frequent reminders from you, managing his or her time, and setting goals for every homework session. Keep this in mind and remember that these skills are vital in middle school, so it’s never too early to nurture them in elementary school.
  2. Emphasize the learning. Grades matter, but in elementary school, your goal should be to motivate your child to learn for the sake of learning. Teach your child to adopt a growth mindset and continuously work on growing and improving. At the start of every year, talk with your child about what he or she wants to gain this year and revisit those goals and dreams often throughout the school year. The more you can ignite your child’s passion for acquiring new knowledge, the more your child will enjoy each grade and finish elementary school highly prepared for middle school.

Students grow and mature a lot between kindergarten and fifth grade (or sixth, depending on your school). Successful transitions from grade to grade require support from home. Nurture your child’s independence, continue to encourage good organizational and time management skills and support your child in the ways that your child’s teachers suggest. Ultimately, your role is to help your child become a resilient, adaptable student that can handle any transition, big or small.