First Grade Math: The Most Important Math Concepts Kids Learn In 1st Grade

by | May 20, 2021 | Core Skills

Your child has progressed from kindergarten to first grade. That’s exciting news! There is so much learning to come their way, especially from their first grade math class.

Math skills and concepts build on each other from grade to grade, which is why children need to get a firm foundation so they can handle the more complex challenges as they progress in school.

As a concerned parent, you might be wondering what some of these mathematical concepts will be and, more importantly, how you can help your child master them. You don’t have to figure it out on your own.

Here, we will give you a breakdown of what to expect from your child’s math class. We’ll also add a few tips on how to help your young learner thrive through it all.

Let’s get started!

Why Is Math Important?

Using blocks to learn first grade math

Math is taught in the classroom, but that doesn’t mean that’s the only place it’s relevant. We use it every day!

From the hexagonal bee combs to the circles, semi-circles, and crescents of the phases of our moon, mathematics is an essential part of the world we live in, and learning it helps us make sense of everything around us.

Did you know that math skills can also be linked to music? Children who play musical instruments use the same part of the brain when doing math. This is why studies have shown that music students do better in mathematics than their non-musical peers.

Sports and mathematics also have an interesting connection. Just think about all the coordination involved in performing well in certain sports. Research has shown that these skills can also be used to learn math.

In addition, mathematics helps us be stronger logical thinkers. Since most young kids tend to enjoy math time, it’s essential to foster this natural love for the subject just as much as we want to encourage children’s love for reading.

Helping children develop a love for mathematics generally works well when approached actively as a problem-solving skill rather than a rote memory task. Math helps children thrive in various aspects of their lives.

So, how do we get there? It all starts with the foundation.

Below are the key first grade math concepts your child will soon learn and some tips on how you can support them on their journey.

8 Important First Grade Math Concepts

1) Numbers And Counting

Young girl doing first grade math

At first grade level (and for the next few years in school), learning different numbers and counting will form a significant part of your child’s mathematics lessons.

By the end of the first grade, your child will have learned to:

  • Count and write numbers from 1 to 100
  • Count by 1s, 2s, 5s, and 10s
  • Count backward
  • Count onward from any number
  • Count backward from any number

There are different ways to help your child grasp numbers and counting at home, and hands-on activities work best.

An effective strategy is to help your child visualize what all these numbers mean. For example, instead of just memorizing the numbers, they can count bears, large dried beans, or even craft sticks.

2) Addition And Subtraction

Plastic numbers for learning first grade math

In first grade math, your young learner will start adding and subtracting numbers up to 30. They will also solve basic word problems with the help of drawings, objects, and equations.

By the end of the first grade, your child will have been shown how to:

  • Add three one-digit numbers
  • Write and show an understanding of the mathematical symbols (+, -, =)
  • Solve problems involving one and two-digit numbers
  • Solve problems involving an unknown. For example, 1 + _ = 4

Addition and subtraction are two math skills that can be demonstrated in everyday life situations. This makes it relatively easy to practice at home!

For instance, you might ask, “If you have two teddy bears and granny buys you three more, how many teddy bears will you have in total?” Or, “There were six strawberries in the fridge. Daddy ate some strawberries. There are now four left. How many did daddy eat?”

3) 2-D Shapes

During pre-k, children get introduced to different shapes. In first grade, they will continue to extend their understanding of them.

By the end of the first grade, your child may be able to:

  • Examine the attributes of different shapes (number of sides, faces, etc.)
  • Name the 2-D shapes

To help your child grasp these shapes at home, continue to point out and name the 2-D shapes in the world around you (circles, triangles, pentagons, etc.).

When doing so, remember to always highlight the attributes (e.g., this book has four equal sides, so it’s a square).

4) Sorting And Patterns

Understanding and sorting patterns also forms a part of first grade math.

Your first grader will learn to:

  • Sort different objects by attributes such as color, shape, and function. For example, sorting a mixed group of blocks so that the red, blue, green, and yellow blocks are separated.
  • In addition, if these blocks are placed in a pattern (e.g., green, yellow, green, yellow, etc.), your child should be able to both predict which color will come next and create their own identical pattern. This skill will help develop your child’s logical thinking.

Continue to allow your young learner to play with fun building blocks and create their own patterns to help them master this skill.

5) Fractions

Fraction tiles for learning first grade math
Montessori material. Children’s hands. The study of mathematics School and kindergarten. Whole and part. Fractions

As a first-grader, your child will be introduced to fractions as equal shares and basic fractions such as ½, ⅓, and ¼. For children to fully grasp these concepts, it’s essential to keep things intuitive.

For example, you can start by helping them understand that a half is two equal parts, a third is three equal parts, and so forth. They also need to understand that although three is bigger than two, ⅓ is smaller than ½.

Fractions can be tricky for kids to learn, which is why it’s important to use practical and everyday items.

For example, you can help your young learner examine the fractions of a full pizza. Then, as you divide the pizza into different slices, talk about the parts that you’ve created from the whole.

The concept of equal shares can also be demonstrated from one object and a group. For instance, you can have ½ of a single item (e.g., ½ of a cookie), or you can have ½ of a group of objects (e.g., ½ of four cookies is two cookies).

6) Number Place Values

With all the counting in first grade math, your child will naturally be introduced to the concept of place values. For instance, understanding that in the number 288, the 2 is worth 2 “hundreds” (or 200).

There are various activities you can do at home to help your young learner with this concept, including:

  • Using number lines
  • Base ten blocks

For more ideas to help with number place values and other 1st grade math concepts, take a look at the book Games for Math: Playful Ways to Help Your Child Learn Math, From Kindergarten to Third Grade by HOMER’s very own Peggy Kaye.

7) Time

kid using a play clock to learn and tell time

Telling time (both digital and analog) is an important life skill that kids learn from first grade. The concept of elapsed time will also be introduced at this stage.

In first grade math, your child will learn to:

  • Tell time to the nearest hour, half-hour, and quarter-hour (sometimes even to five minutes)
  • Make the connection between time and events (e.g., shorter, longer, after, before)

Understanding the analog clock can be tricky for a child who’s only exposed to digital clocks. So help your young learner by buying one (or making one for learning) to hang up at home.

You can then speak to your child about what it means when the hands move. To make things easier, start by helping them tell time to an hour and half-hour before progressing to quarter-hours.

8) Measurements And Comparisons

First grade math also involves some measuring and unit comparisons.

Your child will learn how to measure using a ruler and, after taking measurements, compare and order objects by length. First-graders will also learn how to compare the weights and volumes of different objects.

To help your young learner at home, keep rulers nearby and take measurements together of some of the objects they love (e.g., stuffed toys, cookies, etc.).

Bonus tip: If you’re a regular baker, why not help them see how you use measuring tools to create their favorite treats? Yum!

Helping Your Child With First Grade Math

Child and teacher doing math on a chalkboard

We’ve already mentioned a few ways in which you can help your first grader with math at home. In addition to the above, playing math games is a fun and easy way to practice math at home!

Here are some examples of more math activities your young learner will enjoy at home:

Math Is All Around Us

Girl learning first grade math

Helping your child grasp first grade math concepts at home is easier when you focus on the fact that mathematics is a part of our everyday lives. It is in the shape of road signs, the parts of sliced pizza, and even the watches on our wrists!

Sometimes kids (and parents) forget that math can be lots of fun. So whenever you can, incorporate games and activities to bring a little excitement to all the learning.

Will this help your child become our next best mathematician? Only time will tell. But one thing is for sure — all of the great mathematicians started somewhere. Even Isaac Newton had to master first grade math!

For more ideas and inspiration, visit the HOMER Learn & Grow app.


  • Begin Learning Team

    Parents hear so much noise about what matters–it’s hard to know where to begin. That’s where we come in. We are early learning experts & PhDs helping you focus on what matters most for your child.

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Begin Learning Team
Begin Learning Team

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Parents hear so much noise about what matters–it’s hard to know where to begin. That’s where we come in. We are early learning experts & PhDs helping you focus on what matters most for your child.