Big-Kid Brains

Find out about the pivotal changes that shape the ways 3rd graders think and play.



Big-Kid Brains

No longer a school novice, your 3rd grader is ready to enter the more demanding intermediate grades. Although there is still a time and need for fun, his brain is ripening just in time for denser lessons and high-stakes standardized tests.
These higher expectations reflect a monumental milestone, in which your 3rd grader begins to think systematically. She'll understand the nature of her brain and how she can maximize her thinking capabilities. She'll concentrate, prepare, evaluate her knowledge, and understand that with a little bit of reflection, the mind is a powerful and purposeful tool. Instead of focusing simply on completion, a 3rd grader will consider the process. Teachers won't just ask "who and what," but also the latent meanings, the "why and how."
Third grade is a perfect time to introduce more complex skills, like cursive writing, multiplication, division, and analytical reading. Third grade books will have fewer illustrations, therefore setting up the expectation that students must look beyond the obvious to their own perceptions. Classrooms that are supportive but still demanding help motivate kids to turn the academic corner.

  • Finding Trustworthy Friends
    Your child isn't using her brain only for school. Friends will take up a large part of her mental energy, as friendships become more psychologically rooted. While earlier friendships may have centered on concrete pleasures like play, friendships now are based more on abstract satisfaction, like mutual trust, loyalty, and honesty. Friends are less transitory and your child will stay truer to those who stand by her side through thick and thin.
    However, though trust may stabilize friendships, it may also be a reason to sever them. Any incident of less-than-reliable support, such as gossip, breaking promises, or not helping when needed constitutes a serious violation of trust. Unlike younger children, who correct social wrongs through playing nicely, older kids mend rifts by more psychological means, like apologies and explanations.
  • Flexing Their Wings at Home
    Just as 3rd grade teachers give their students a comforting yet challenging learning environment, you need to give your 8 or 9 year old room to grow while still remaining supportive.
    Prepare for workload and exam anxieties by checking in with the teacher to see what tests are being administered this year, and what the stakes are — from grade advancement to class placement to gifted classification. Knowing the rigor of your child's school life will help you meet her needs. Some teachers may assign family projects for homework. These are great opportunities for you to understand what the teacher's expectations are, and how your child is rising to those challenges. And, though it might be distressing to hear your child say "no" to your help, take this as a positive sign of his growing selfhood.
    At home, give your child the same level of independence and responsibility he has been given at school. Instead of reading to him every night, try having him read to you sometimes. Reconsider his household duties (and privileges); he may be ready for bigger challenges.
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