Welcome to the brave new world of third grade. Some consider this the first of the "tween" years, when your child is not quite little, not quite big and might desire more independence than is warranted or wise.
At this age, typically 8 years old, they're coming into their own in academics, physical ability and society. Yes, third grade has a society. It's often the start of the more complex social structure that will follow your child to the end of school (at least). Academically, this year sees such iconic grade-school projects as memorizing state capitals, writing book reports and the baking-soda-and-vinegar volcano that messes up your kitchen.
Science, math, reading, writing, social development -- it's all changing this year, again, and maybe even more than it did in second grade [source: Family Education]. Here, five of the most amazing things your child will discover in the course of the third-grade year. For starters, it turns out addition and subtraction is the very tip of the iceberg ...
You Can Multiply -- and Divide!
In second grade, students start to develop an understanding of multiplication and division as concepts. This year, they're learning how to multiply and divide.
Third grade is the setting for increasingly complex math, and these operations play center stage. Some of this new math will be memorized (which is likely a new practice in itself): You'll be listening to multiplication table recitations that go up to at least 12 x 12 [source: Ladies' Home Journal]. But your third-grader will be doing some serious math equations, too, using processes that many encounter this year for the first time. Teachers typically expect their students to learn to multiply double-digit numbers by single-digit numbers, and divide the same, as well as start to work with related concepts like fractions and decimals.
So by the end of the year, your baby might be helping you calculate the tip. And that's just the beginning. In language, too, your child may encounter some concepts that are, for the most part, truly new.
Words Have Names!
When your child enters third grade, "writing" takes on new meaning. Last year, it was basically the process of forming letters and words and putting them together to convey an idea. This year, writing gets grammatical.
Your child will be introduced to the complicated world of parts-of-speech and sentence structure, which means both reading and writing will become far more technical, requiring a deeper understanding of language and its patterns and uses.
Words become "verbs," "nouns," "adjectives" and "articles." Words or groups of words can be "subjects" or "predicates." Sometimes, sentences are "transitions." Writing can be "informative" or "persuasive;" it can be composed of "paragraphs," and it often ends with a "clincher."
This will likely be your child's first experience with this type of technical grammar and language instruction. Some pick it up quickly, while others take a while to catch on. Either way, your third-grader will finish this year with a dramatically increased sense of the structures and patterns underlying the language they've been speaking for so many years.
Perhaps even bigger (or at least more hands-on), your child will begin to grasp the structures and patterns underlying the world he or she has been living in ...
You're a Scientist!
Up to now, science class participation has mostly been listening and looking. In third grade, science gets very hands-on, and your child may discover he or she is all about experimenting.
Third graders will conduct simple experiments independently and in groups, and will participate in teacher-guided complex ones. Less hands-on but nearly as exciting, your child will be exploring in some deep space, geology, climate, life cycles of plants and animals, and other topics that can open young minds to the incredible workings of the world around them.
Space, in particular, can become quite a focus. Around this age, lots of kids decide to become astronauts when they grow up, and space-related matters might be a science-project topic of choice. You might even start hearing about Space Camp (yes, it's a real thing!), which your child is nearly old enough to attend. (See How Space Camp Works to learn about it.)
And then there are the less hands-on, but just as mind-boggling, third-grade developments ...
You Decide What It Means!
In school, especially in the early grades, most questions have one correct answer. Which graph entry shows the highest number of points in the game? Does the main character have red hair or brown? How many moons does Earth have?
In third grade, things get more interpretative. Your child will be encouraged to use a lot more reasoning, perspective and analysis. In math, your child will be asked to interpret the results, not just read them: What does this graph tell you about scoring points? What do you think was going through the main character's head when she fell off her bike? If there were creatures living on the moon, what would they look like, and why?
When there's more than one right answer to a question, thinking is required, and that's a tremendous third-grade lesson: Sometimes, it's you who decides what it means, shows or requires. If you can back it up, it's right!
And finally, another eye-opener that will change how your child experiences life and knowledge.
The Web Can Tell You Stuff!
Your child has probably been using some form of computer for years now, playing memory games, looking at pictures and just generally having fun with technology. In first and second grades, the Internet entered the equation with guided lessons. This year, your child will find out what the Web can really do.
No longer just an instrument of fun and imagery, the Internet will become a place for research -- for finding answers to any questions you have. Third graders will learn how to efficiently use search engines and how to determine which Web sites are credible sources of information and which aren't. They'll use online resources for research projects. Some might even learn to type.
Your third grader will experience technology as "information technology," opening up a whole new world of access to knowledge. It might make you seem a bit less all-knowing, but the ability to find answers independently is a priceless one that will affect how your child learns, works and experiences the world for the rest of his or her life.
Who knows, your third grader might end up teaching you a thing or two about technology, because these lessons will be coming home every day in the form of homework -- about 30 minutes per night this year. So clear off the kitchen table, and remember: Help, don't do!
For more information on third grade, including ways you can support your child's learning at home, check out the links on the next page.
HowStuffWorks gets schooled on what the differences are between a college and university.
Author's Note: 5 Incredible Things You'll Learn in Third Grade
Third grade is an academically challenging year, and my research revealed a trend toward even greater challenges of late. Perhaps in response to high-pressure government standards, some elementary schools have been assigning a lot more homework (and some are assigning none at all -- but that's less common). There have been reports of young students coming home with hours of work to do, and while I only touched on this briefly in one of the back-to-school articles, it's worth looking into further if your child's homework level seems extreme, as many education experts recommend against the trend.
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- 5 Incredible Things You'll Learn in First Grade
- 5 Incredible Things You'll Learn in Kindergarten
- Learning Guide: Third Grade. Ladies Home Journal. (June 26, 2012) http://www.lhj.com/relationships/family/school/learning-guide-third-grade/
- Third Grade: What Will They Learn? Family Education. (June 26, 2012) http://school.familyeducation.com/elementary-school/assessment/56219.html
- Preparing for Third Grade. Scholastic Parents. (June 26, 2012) http://www.scholastic.com/resources/article/preparing-for-3rd-grade/
- Schools no longer required to teach cursive starting this fall. Fox59. June 30, 2011. (June 28, 2012) http://www.fox59.com/news/wxin-cursive-writing-schools-no-longer-required-to-teach-cursive-beginning-this-fall-20110630,0,7533627.story