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Third Grade: The New ‘Big Year’

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Third Grade: The New ‘Big Year’

While each new grade level has its own unique transitions, we are well aware of the major transitions of going to kindergarten, middle school and high school. But there is one grade level transition that is major and no one every talks about it. It is the transition from second grade to third grade.

This weekend, I was visiting with a long time friend, who is an elementary principal and former third grade teacher (like myself). We were discussing her daughters impending entrance to third grade. This seasoned third grade teacher and principal admitted that she was far more worried about the third grade transition than any other. Even her daughter confided that she was nervous about this year at school. We laughed how scary it is that the mom, who taught third grade and is the instructional coach of third grade teachers, is worried about this upcoming third grade year for her family. No wonder each year third grade parents flip out! What is it about the move from second grade to third grade that is so big?

It is a combination of several things: standardized testing, brain development, social development and an increase in responsibilities.

It is the year that many schools begin standardize testing. The preparation for these tests begin at the beginning of the year and last throughout. These tests can bring out perfectionist qualities in students that had not been present before. Students who are sensitive to the enormity of the tests will put pressure on themselves that can result in procrastination, stress, tears and underachievement. Because of the stress on the standardize tests, the students will be tested more than they have been before and strengths and weakness will be brought to both students and parents attention more frequently. This kind of information will be new for both the parent and the student and can be overwhelming.

This is also the year that many schools being to give number and/or letter grades. This will be new for both the student and the parent. Your child will begin to realize that they can’t just guess. They will have to pay attention, know the material and make sure the work gets turned in on time. Find out how you can see their weekly grades so you can step in at the right moment if your child is falling behind. Discuss their grades with them so you are sure that both you and your child understand why they received the grade they received.

Much like when your child began turning five, and a surge of new vocabulary was being used by child, the same surge happens around eight years old. Third graders will begin to have a more developed vocabulary and recent research from Stanford has shown that third graders have a greater sense of problem solving. Part of this is because the white matter out weighs the gray matter in the brain and is able to make connections across the right and the left brain. Because their brain is making connections that it may not have been making before, this is a great time to introduce new and exciting activities in their lives. Try a sport or a new musical instrument that might have been too challenging before because their brain development is ready for these more advanced connections.

This is a great time to introduce great reading series that they can read alone or out loud as a family. Encourage journal writing so your child has a place to record these new developments in their life. Third grade has always been my favorite age to teach because their sense of humor starts to develop. Things just start to ‘click’ about third grade and it is great fun!

Another new development, in third grade is the new social scene. Third graders begin to develop one strong friendship, but still enjoy playing in groups. At this age, children begin to get a true sense of right and wrong, but they still see things very black and white. They will really begin to struggle with the grey areas. Talking through why one decision might be right for one friend doesn’t mean it’s the best for all is a conversation that will need to happen more than once.

I have also noticed that leaders begin to rise up in third grade. This is an exciting development. However, adults know that there can be positive leaders and negative leaders. This distinction is more difficult for a third grader so there may be some tough lessons learned throughout the year. Although your child will start to show signs of ‘growing up’, it’s not time to put away the dolls and cars yet. Be sure to encourage the new development of friendships, but remember to also encourage branching out to all types of friends. Keep an open door for discussion as your child is figuring out the social structure of the world.

Third grade also is the year that students and parents see an increase in responsibility. This is the year the student will start to be the one that is in charge of their own learning. They will have to learn how to keep an assignment notebook, write down their assignments and remember to bring home the supplies needed for the assignment(s). If your child doesn’t finish their work, they will have to bring it home to finish. You will be tempted to do these tasks for them. DON’T. Your child will never learn that they are responsible for themselves or that you get great results from hard work if you always rescue them. Third grade is a great year to learn consequences from lack of effort in school. What you can do is help them learn to get organized.

The National Association of School Psychologist has a great workbook to guide you through helping your child to become organized. Be patient and positive throughout this transition. If your child is becoming frustrated with all the responsibility, help them break down the steps to finishing the tasks, discuss different ways he/she could try to solve the problem or conference with the teacher. Send the message to your child that you and the teacher are there to work together to help them be successful.

I have heard many parents complain about not being prepared for the intensity of third grade, the amount of work, the emotional highs and lows their household is experiencing. The best I can say from my experience is that its part of the journey.

While this all sounds a bit scary, keep in mind that the newness of third grade wears off after about 9 weeks. It gets better and you will be surprised by how independent your child becomes quickly. Be careful not to be too critical of the third grade teachers, I promise they are pushing your child to potentials they can rise to and paving the way for the harder transitions down the road. Stay positive and supportive for your child and you will all make it through this fun growing year of third grade.

What’s your 3rd grade experience? Share your story below in our COMMENTS box.

Cara Beth McLeod Cara Beth McLeod is a Gifted & Talented Specialist in Austin, Texas with a Bachelor of Arts from Texas A&M University. She worked with pre-service teachers at The University of North Texas and has presented at the Texas Association for Gifted & Talented annual conference. Give Cara Beth a follow on twitter @cbmcleod.
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