The 2nd grade is a year of transitions and curriculum milestones. In language arts, kids spend less time learning to read and more time reading to learn. In math, they learn to count money and tell time, skills that translate to daily life. It’s a year in which learning becomes more nuanced and students are expected to be more independent.

“You go from the concrete to the semi-concrete,” says Greg Wiseman, principal at Winnona Park Elementary in Decatur, Ga. “In 2nd grade, not all kids are fluent in reading, but they are learning from what they are reading, whereas in 1st grade the emphasis was on reading the words on the page.”

Students will be expected not just to read a short story but also to answer questions about events that may not be explicitly revealed in the text. As the year goes on, kids will learn to discern whether the story is fiction or nonfiction. “In 2nd grade, you’re making inferences in what you’re reading,” Wiseman says.

He adds that such shifts are gradual and that most students won’t notice how different 2nd grade is from 1st grade. Parents who worry that 2nd grade is too sophisticated should know that the classroom environment and the content are still appropriate for 7- and 8-year-olds. “Second grade is more like 1st grade than it is like 3rd grade,” Wiseman says.

Patterns and Prediction

Math lessons are challenging and may include patterning, graphing, basic geometry, fractions, measurement, and two-digit addition and subtraction, with students learning to “carry” numbers. Students will get more experience with word problems and will be expected to explain how or why they arrived at their answers. Today’s teachers are less likely to dictate one way to solve a problem and more likely to give children room to find their own methods of getting the right answer.

“In 2nd grade, kids are having to construct their own meaning of math,” Wiseman says. “We’re having the kids come up with their own algorithms....In solving a word problem, kids are wired differently, and some will want to work backwards.”

For language arts, children will be expected to read with expression and to predict the outcome of a story based on the text as well as pictures. They will learn to pull out the main ideas and supporting ideas. Parents can help their 2nd grader by encouraging her to read aloud every day and asking questions about the story.

Reading With Pride

Some teachers think of grade 2 as the year of the chapter book. “In 2nd grade, kids are reading what we call easy chapter books,” says Masha Rudman, director of the elementary education teaching program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “These are very little chapters, and they read it in chunks.”

Chapter books give children at this age an opportunity to feel pride in completing a whole book by themselves. Yet the books are accessible and age-appropriate. “Children especially love series books at this age,” Rudman says. Popular series books include Beverly Cleary’s Ramona stories and Henry and Mudge by Cynthia Rylant.

Students in 2nd grade respond to stories about kids with whom they can relate, and they also like to read books about children from different cultures. “Second-graders need mirrors where they can see themselves and windows where they can see others in a nonthreatening way,” Rudman says.

Parents can further encourage reading and math fluency by including their child in trips to the grocery store. Kids can help make the shopping list, read through sales circulars, calculate how much the groceries will cost, read labels, and compare prices. “The supermarket is a wonderful educational place,” Rudman says.

Writing is a major component of 2nd grade. Some teachers may require students to keep a journal; many teachers suggest that parents have their child write every day, starting with just one sentence. Teachers will be tougher when it comes to spelling and expect students to use capitalization and punctuation correctly. Many 2nd grade teachers will introduce the writing process of brainstorming, writing, revising, and editing.

In social studies classes, teachers will bring current events into discussions and will emphasize maps as well as diversity among cultures. The 2nd grade science curriculum varies widely from state to state but will probably include identification of the parts of a plant, the name classifications of animals, and biological life cycles, such as how caterpillars turn into butterflies.

As parents of 2nd graders review the curriculum online or listen to teachers on curriculum night, it may be easy to get overwhelmed. Teachers set big goals for 2nd grade; with support from parents, kids are more than capable of reaching those goals.

For more information, read “2nd Grade Social Changes: What To Expect”

Journalist Patti Ghezzi covered education and schools for 10 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She lives in Avondale Estates, Ga., with her family, which includes husband Jason, daughter Celia, and geriatric mutt Albany.