In today’s rapidly changing world, what we teach our children in elementary school can have an outsized impact on the trajectory of their lives. As parents and educators, we want to equip students with the fundamental knowledge and skills they’ll need to thrive in the decades ahead.

So what should we prioritize teaching kids before they graduate 5th grade? If you’re looking for a quick answer, here are 3 key subjects every elementary school curriculum must include: social-emotional learning, financial literacy, and coding basics.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore these topics along with 8 other vital areas of study for 21st century elementary education.

Social-Emotional Learning

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) is a vital component of a well-rounded education in elementary schools. It focuses on developing students’ emotional intelligence, empathy, and social skills. By teaching SEL, educators help students navigate their emotions, build healthy relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Here are some essential lessons to teach in elementary school for social-emotional learning:


Self-awareness is the foundation of social-emotional learning. It involves understanding one’s own emotions, strengths, weaknesses, and values. By fostering self-awareness, students can identify and express their feelings effectively.

Educators can encourage self-awareness through activities like journaling, mindfulness exercises, and reflective discussions. Teaching self-awareness helps students develop a positive self-image and improves their ability to regulate their emotions.


Self-management is the ability to regulate one’s own emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. It is crucial for students to learn how to manage stress, set goals, and persevere through challenges. Educators can teach self-management skills by providing strategies such as deep breathing exercises, time management techniques, and problem-solving strategies.

By promoting self-management, students become more resilient, adaptable, and better equipped to handle difficult situations.

Responsible decision-making

Responsible decision-making involves considering ethical standards, evaluating consequences, and making choices that positively impact oneself and others. Educators can teach responsible decision-making by presenting scenarios and discussing the potential outcomes and the values at stake.

Role-playing activities and group discussions also help students practice making responsible choices. By fostering responsible decision-making skills, students become more accountable, ethical, and capable of thinking critically.

Relationship skills

Developing healthy relationships is essential for students’ social-emotional growth. Relationship skills include effective communication, active listening, empathy, and conflict resolution. Educators can teach relationship skills through cooperative learning activities, role-plays, and team-building exercises.

By teaching students how to establish and maintain positive relationships, they become better communicators, collaborators, and empathetic individuals.

Social awareness

Social awareness is about understanding and empathizing with others’ perspectives and experiences. It involves recognizing and appreciating diversity, practicing empathy, and being socially responsible.

Educators can foster social awareness by exposing students to different cultures, discussing current events, and engaging in service-learning projects. By developing social awareness, students become more inclusive, compassionate, and active members of their communities.

Implementing social-emotional learning in elementary schools not only benefits students academically but also equips them with essential life skills. SEL teaches students how to manage their emotions, build healthy relationships, and make responsible decisions.

By prioritizing social-emotional learning, schools create a supportive and inclusive environment that promotes the overall well-being of students.

Financial Literacy

Teaching financial literacy at an early age is crucial for setting children up for a successful future. By providing elementary school students with essential lessons in money management, they can develop important skills that will benefit them throughout their lives.

Basic money management

One of the first lessons in financial literacy for elementary school students is understanding the basics of money management. This includes teaching them about the different denominations of currency, how to count money, and understanding the value of coins and bills.

By grasping these concepts, children can start building a foundation for future financial decision-making.

Earning, spending, saving

Elementary school is the perfect time to introduce children to the concepts of earning, spending, and saving money. Teaching them about the importance of earning money through chores or small jobs can instill a sense of responsibility and work ethic.

Additionally, teaching them about the benefits of saving money, such as setting goals and making future purchases, can encourage healthy financial habits from an early age.


Introducing the concept of budgeting to elementary school students can help them understand the importance of managing their money wisely. Teaching them how to create a simple budget, including income and expenses, can lay the groundwork for future financial planning.

This can include discussing the difference between needs and wants, as well as the importance of prioritizing spending.

Banking basics

Another essential lesson in financial literacy for elementary school students is teaching them about basic banking concepts. This can include introducing them to the role of banks, the importance of saving money in a bank account, and the benefits of earning interest.

Explaining how to use an ATM, write a check, and understand a bank statement can also help children become more comfortable with the banking system.

Consumer skills

Teaching elementary school students about consumer skills can empower them to make informed financial decisions. This can include introducing them to concepts such as comparison shopping, understanding advertising techniques, and distinguishing between needs and wants.

By equipping them with these skills, children can develop a critical mindset when it comes to making purchases and become savvy consumers.

According to a study conducted by the National Endowment for Financial Education, students who receive financial education in elementary school are more likely to exhibit positive financial behaviors later in life.

Therefore, it is crucial for schools to incorporate financial literacy lessons into their curriculum to set children on the path to financial success.

Coding Basics

Coding is becoming an increasingly important skill in today’s technology-driven world. By introducing coding basics in elementary school, students can develop important cognitive abilities and problem-solving skills.

Here are some essential lessons to teach in elementary school to lay the foundation for coding:

Logical Thinking

One of the key aspects of coding is logical thinking. Teaching students how to break down complex problems into smaller, more manageable parts helps them develop critical thinking skills. By encouraging students to think analytically and logically, they can approach coding challenges with confidence and creativity.

Algorithm Design

An algorithm is a step-by-step set of instructions that solves a specific problem. Teaching students how to design algorithms helps them understand the importance of planning and organization. They learn to create a logical sequence of steps to achieve a desired outcome.

This skill is not only applicable to coding but also to problem-solving in their everyday lives.

Debugging Skills

Debugging is an essential skill in coding. It involves identifying and fixing errors in a program. By teaching students how to debug, they learn persistence, patience, and attention to detail. Debugging also helps them develop problem-solving strategies and encourages a growth mindset by emphasizing that mistakes are opportunities for learning and improvement.

Introduction to Block Coding

Block coding is an excellent way to introduce coding concepts to elementary school students. By using visual blocks that represent code, students can understand the basics of coding without having to worry about syntax.

Platforms like Scratch or Blockly provide a user-friendly environment where students can drag and drop blocks to create their own programs. This hands-on approach makes coding accessible and engaging for young learners.

Applications of Technology

It’s important to show students how coding is applied in real-world scenarios. By demonstrating how coding is used in various industries like gaming, robotics, and web development, students can understand the practical applications of their coding skills.

This can inspire them to pursue further studies in computer science or related fields.

By teaching coding basics in elementary school, students gain valuable skills that will benefit them throughout their lives. It fosters creativity, problem-solving abilities, and logical thinking, all of which are essential in an increasingly digital world.

Civics & Government

Civics and Government is an important subject to teach in elementary school as it helps students develop an understanding of how their community and country function. By learning about civics and government, students gain knowledge about their rights and responsibilities as citizens, as well as the importance of civic participation.

Here are some essential lessons to teach in elementary school under the umbrella of Civics and Government:

Community awareness

Teaching students about community awareness is a fundamental aspect of civics education. It is important for students to understand the concept of community, the different types of communities, and the roles and responsibilities of individuals within a community.

By promoting community awareness, students develop a sense of belonging and learn the value of contributing positively to their community. Teachers can engage students in activities such as community service projects, guest speakers from local organizations, and field trips to community establishments to foster a deeper understanding of their community.

Local government

Understanding how local government works is crucial for students to comprehend the decision-making process and the impact it has on their daily lives. Teachers can introduce students to the various branches of local government, such as the mayor’s office, city council, and local courts.

Students can learn about the role of elected officials, how local laws are made, and how citizens can participate in local government processes. This knowledge empowers students to become active and engaged members of their communities.

Civic participation

Teaching students about civic participation is essential in fostering a sense of responsibility and active citizenship. By introducing students to the concept of civic participation, teachers can encourage them to voice their opinions, get involved in community projects, and understand the importance of voting.

Engaging students in mock elections, debates, and discussions on current issues can help them develop critical thinking skills and become informed citizens who actively contribute to their communities.

National symbols & holidays

Learning about national symbols and holidays helps students develop a sense of pride and identity as citizens of their country. Teachers can introduce students to important national symbols, such as the flag, national anthem, and official emblem.

Additionally, explaining the significance of national holidays, such as Independence Day or Veterans Day, helps students understand the historical events that shaped their nation. By teaching about national symbols and holidays, teachers create opportunities for students to reflect on their country’s history and values.

Rights & responsibilities

Teaching students about their rights and responsibilities is crucial for developing informed and responsible citizens. Educating students about their rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to a fair trial, helps them understand the importance of upholding these rights.

Similarly, teaching students about their responsibilities, such as obeying laws, respecting others, and participating in the democratic process, instills a sense of civic duty. By emphasizing the balance between rights and responsibilities, teachers can empower students to become active and engaged members of society.

Nutrition & Health

Food groups & healthy eating

One of the essential lessons to teach in elementary school is about food groups and healthy eating. It is important for children to understand the different food groups and the role they play in maintaining a balanced diet.

Educating students about the importance of fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy products can help them make healthier food choices. Teaching children about portion control, reading food labels, and the benefits of eating a variety of foods can set a strong foundation for their lifelong health.

Physical fitness

Another crucial lesson to teach in elementary school is about physical fitness. Regular physical activity is essential for children’s overall well-being. Engaging students in activities that promote cardiovascular endurance, strength, flexibility, and coordination can help them develop healthy habits early on.

Incorporating fun activities such as games, sports, and dance can motivate children to stay active and enjoy being physically fit.

Body awareness

Teaching children about body awareness is an important aspect of their overall health education. It is crucial for students to understand their bodies, how they function, and how to take care of them. Educating children about the importance of proper posture, body mechanics, and the impact of activities such as sitting for long periods or carrying heavy backpacks can help prevent potential musculoskeletal problems.

Teaching basic first aid skills, such as how to clean and bandage a wound or how to recognize signs of illness, can also empower children to take care of themselves and others.

Mental health

In recent years, the focus on mental health has gained significant attention, and it is vital to include lessons on this topic in elementary school. Teaching children about emotions, stress management techniques, and the importance of self-care can help them develop healthy coping mechanisms.

Promoting a supportive and inclusive classroom environment can also contribute to positive mental health outcomes for students.


Teaching children about hygiene practices is essential for their overall health and well-being. Lessons on proper handwashing techniques, dental care, and the importance of regular bathing can help prevent the spread of germs and maintain good personal hygiene.

Educating students about the importance of keeping their surroundings clean and the impact of hygiene practices on their health can instill lifelong habits that promote a healthy lifestyle.

Environmental Studies

Environmental studies play a crucial role in elementary school education, as it helps students develop a deep understanding and appreciation for the natural world around them. By integrating environmental studies into the curriculum, educators can equip students with the knowledge and skills they need to become responsible stewards of the environment.

Nature awareness

One essential lesson to teach in elementary school is nature awareness. This involves helping students develop a keen sense of observation and appreciation for the beauty and diversity of the natural world.

By engaging students in outdoor activities, such as nature walks or field trips to local parks, they can learn about different plants, animals, and ecosystems. Encouraging students to explore and ask questions about their surroundings fosters curiosity and a sense of wonder.


Teaching conservation is another vital aspect of environmental studies. Educators can help students understand the importance of conserving natural resources, such as water, energy, and forests. By discussing the impact of human activities on the environment, students can develop a sense of responsibility and learn how their actions can contribute to a sustainable future.

They can be encouraged to practice simple conservation habits, such as turning off lights when not in use or using reusable bags instead of plastic ones.


Recycling is an essential lesson that can be taught in elementary school to instill responsible waste management practices. Educators can explain the benefits of recycling and the different materials that can be recycled, such as paper, plastic, and glass.

Students can be encouraged to participate in recycling programs at school and learn how to sort and separate recyclable materials. By teaching the importance of recycling, students develop an understanding of the impact of waste on the environment and the benefits of reducing, reusing, and recycling.


Gardening is a practical and hands-on way to teach students about the environment and the importance of sustainable food production. By having a small garden in the school or classroom, students can learn about plant life cycles, the role of pollinators, and the importance of soil health.

Gardening also teaches students patience, responsibility, and the joy of growing their own food. It provides an opportunity for students to connect with nature and understand the interconnectedness of the environment.

Environmental justice

Lastly, elementary school can be a platform to introduce students to the concept of environmental justice. Educators can teach students about the unequal distribution of environmental benefits and burdens in society, and the impact this has on marginalized communities.

By discussing real-life examples and engaging students in discussions about fairness and equality, they can develop empathy and become advocates for environmental justice. They can learn about environmental movements and explore ways to make a positive change in their communities.

By integrating these essential lessons on nature awareness, conservation, recycling, gardening, and environmental justice into the elementary school curriculum, educators can empower students to become environmentally conscious individuals who are equipped to make a positive impact on the world around them.

Practical Life Skills

Time Management

Teaching time management skills to elementary school students is crucial for their future success. By learning to prioritize tasks, set goals, and manage their time effectively, students will develop valuable skills that will benefit them throughout their lives.

Encourage them to create a daily schedule or use a planner to keep track of their assignments, extracurricular activities, and free time. Teach them the importance of balancing work and play, and how to break larger tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks.

These skills will help them become more organized, reduce stress, and improve their overall productivity.


Organizational skills are essential for elementary school students to stay on top of their schoolwork and daily responsibilities. Teach them how to keep their desks and backpacks tidy, use folders and binders to organize their papers, and create a system for keeping track of assignments and important dates.

Encourage them to develop good habits like cleaning up after themselves and putting things back where they belong. By teaching them these skills early on, you are setting them up for success in higher grades and beyond.

Cooking & Nutrition

It’s never too early to start teaching children about cooking and nutrition. Introduce them to basic cooking skills, such as measuring ingredients, following recipes, and using kitchen tools safely. Teach them about the importance of a balanced diet and the benefits of eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.

Encourage them to participate in meal planning and grocery shopping, and involve them in preparing simple and healthy meals at home. By teaching them these skills, you are helping them develop a lifelong habit of making healthy food choices.

Proper Hygiene

Teaching proper hygiene habits is vital for elementary school students to stay healthy and prevent the spread of germs. Teach them the importance of washing their hands regularly, especially before meals and after using the restroom.

Show them how to properly brush their teeth, floss, and take care of their personal hygiene. Explain the importance of covering their mouths when coughing or sneezing and the proper way to dispose of tissues.

By instilling these habits early on, you are helping them maintain good health and prevent the spread of illnesses.

First Aid Basics

Teaching elementary school students basic first aid skills can empower them to take action during emergencies. Teach them how to recognize common injuries and illnesses, such as cuts, bruises, and fevers.

Show them how to apply basic first aid techniques, such as cleaning and bandaging wounds, and providing comfort to someone in distress. Encourage them to memorize important emergency phone numbers and teach them what to do in case of an emergency.

By equipping them with these skills, you are teaching them to be responsible and compassionate individuals who can provide immediate help when needed.

The Arts

The arts play a vital role in the development of elementary school students. Not only do they provide a creative outlet, but they also help foster imagination, self-expression, and critical thinking skills.

By incorporating various forms of art into the curriculum, educators can instill a love for creativity and nurture the talents of young minds.

Visual arts

Visual arts, such as drawing, painting, and sculpting, allow students to explore their creativity while developing fine motor skills. Through visual arts, children learn to observe, analyze, and interpret the world around them. It also helps them express their emotions and thoughts in a visual form.

Studies have shown that involvement in visual arts can enhance cognitive abilities, improve academic performance, and boost self-esteem.


Music education is not just about playing an instrument or singing; it goes beyond that. It helps develop language and reasoning skills, enhances memory and concentration, and promotes social and emotional well-being. Learning music also requires discipline, practice, and teamwork.

In fact, research has shown that students who are involved in music education tend to perform better in subjects like math and science. Incorporating music into the curriculum can provide a well-rounded educational experience for elementary school students.


Drama allows students to explore different perspectives, develop empathy, and enhance their communication and collaboration skills. Through acting and role-playing, children learn to express themselves effectively, build confidence, and understand the emotions and motivations of others.

Drama also helps develop critical thinking skills and fosters creativity. By incorporating drama activities into the classroom, educators can create a safe and inclusive space for students to explore their imagination and develop a deeper understanding of themselves and the world around them.


Dance is not only a form of physical exercise but also a means of self-expression and creativity. It helps students develop coordination, balance, and flexibility while promoting body awareness and control.

Dance also encourages students to express emotions through movement and fosters a sense of rhythm and musicality. Incorporating dance into the curriculum allows students to explore different cultural traditions, learn about different styles of dance, and promote a healthy and active lifestyle.

Creative expression

Creative expression encompasses various forms of art, including writing, poetry, and storytelling. It allows students to express their thoughts, ideas, and emotions in a unique and personal way. Creative expression not only enhances language skills but also promotes self-reflection and self-awareness.

By encouraging students to engage in creative writing or storytelling activities, educators can help them develop their imagination, improve their communication skills, and build their confidence as writers and storytellers.

Physical Education

Physical education is an essential part of the elementary school curriculum. It not only promotes physical fitness but also teaches important life skills such as teamwork, sportsmanship, and discipline. Here are some key lessons that should be taught in physical education classes:

Fitness skills

One of the primary goals of physical education is to teach students the importance of fitness. Students should be taught various fitness skills such as cardiovascular endurance, strength, flexibility, and coordination.

They can learn these skills through activities like running, jumping, stretching, and balancing exercises. By developing these skills, students will be better equipped to lead active and healthy lives.

Team sports

Participating in team sports is a great way for students to learn how to work together towards a common goal. Whether it’s soccer, basketball, or volleyball, team sports teach important skills such as communication, cooperation, and leadership.

Students also learn how to handle both victory and defeat with grace, which are valuable life lessons that can be applied beyond the sports field.

Individual sports

In addition to team sports, it is important for students to be exposed to individual sports. Activities like swimming, gymnastics, and tennis help students develop self-discipline and perseverance. These sports also promote individual growth and allow students to set personal goals and strive for self-improvement.

Lifelong activity habits

Physical education classes provide an opportunity to instill lifelong activity habits in students. By exposing them to a variety of physical activities and promoting the enjoyment of exercise, teachers can help students develop a positive attitude towards staying active.

This can have long-term benefits for their overall health and well-being.

Injury prevention

Teaching students about injury prevention is crucial to ensure their safety during physical activities. Students should be educated about proper warm-up and cool-down exercises, the importance of wearing appropriate protective gear, and how to recognize and respond to potential injuries.

By equipping students with this knowledge, physical education classes can help them stay safe while participating in sports and other physical activities.

World Languages

Teaching world languages in elementary school is becoming increasingly important in our globalized society. Introducing students to different languages at a young age not only expands their cultural horizons, but also helps them develop valuable skills that will benefit them later in life.

Conversational skills

One of the main goals of teaching world languages in elementary school is to help students develop basic conversational skills. By learning how to greet others, introduce themselves, and engage in simple conversations, students can start building a foundation for future language learning.

This early exposure to different languages also helps them become more confident and open-minded individuals.

Vocabulary building

Another essential aspect of teaching world languages is vocabulary building. Students are taught common words and phrases related to everyday situations, such as greetings, numbers, colors, and food. This not only helps them communicate in a different language, but also enhances their overall language skills.

Research has shown that learning multiple languages improves cognitive abilities and can even lead to better problem-solving skills.

Cultural awareness

Teaching world languages goes beyond just learning words and phrases; it also involves fostering cultural awareness. Students are exposed to different customs, traditions, and celebrations from around the world.

They learn about the diversity of cultures and develop a deeper appreciation for the similarities and differences between people. This helps them become more tolerant and respectful individuals, capable of embracing diversity in all its forms.

Developing proficiency

While elementary school students may not achieve fluency in a foreign language, they can certainly develop proficiency over time. Through consistent exposure and practice, students can become comfortable in using the language in simple conversations and understand basic texts.

This proficiency sets a solid foundation for further language learning in middle and high school.

Boosting brainpower

Learning a world language has been shown to have numerous cognitive benefits. It enhances memory, improves problem-solving skills, and even boosts creativity. Research has also suggested that bilingual individuals have a reduced risk of developing age-related cognitive decline.

By teaching world languages in elementary school, we are not only preparing students for a multicultural world, but also giving them a cognitive advantage that will benefit them throughout their lives.


In elementary school, we lay the groundwork for our children’s future success and wellbeing. While traditional academic subjects like math, science, and language arts remain essential, today’s young students also need knowledge in emerging areas like social-emotional intelligence, financial savvy, and tech fluency.

By teaching kids these real-world skills along with core competencies, elementary schools can nurture capable, responsible, and caring global citizens equipped to excel in the 21st century.

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