I always say that third grade is a very important year in the life of a child. It is the year that so much brain development happens within the classroom, at home, and on the playground. Parent’s may not realize it – but this is a year that a child with subtle learning problems will all of the sudden start to “stick out”.
School Psychologists often receive a great many special education referrals for third graders. Maybe even more than any others. It seems that this is a time when teachers start to advise parents that their child is “not learning as they should be” or perhaps is “dyslexic”. As a School Psychologist I use to dread the week following the first set of parent-teacher conferences. It meant that I would be flooded with referrals.
WHY THIRD GRADE? I have a theory… or two…
Up until the third grade many of our books included loads of photos and pictures. So, a child who had difficulty with reading or comprehending passages could maybe “fake it” by using really good scanning skills or guessing. Plus, a child with good memory may recall a story or bits of passages if they were read to the child prior. But, in ,good ‘ol third grade the pictures greatly reduce compared to early reading books. The vocabulary becomes harder. Common words used in the first primer years now are transformed to bigger words. We sprinkle synonyms, and antonyms all over the text. There may be introductions to unique or new parts of speech or … wait for it… idioms! Plus, the content can be abstract. A child may need to rely on prior knowledge or imagination. Thus, a child who is very literal may really start to become quite frustrated and exhibit learning issues.
And as with reading – the expectations of written language also increase. No longer do we accept the three-sentence paragraph. We now need to write and write and write… a little at a time or maybe a whole entire page. There may be some prompts or “story starters” – but, by the middle to the end of third grade, our little authors need to be pretty fluid with basic sentence structure. The reversals of letters are no longer acceptable and in fact, a red flag for possible dyslexia.
That brings me to my next point – what is DYSLEXIA? Some people think it simply means reversing letters or numbers. Nope. That is not all true. It is perhaps one of the characteristics of dyslexia- but this disorder is a bit more complicated. Here is a snapshot of what dyslexia “may look like” and please keep in mind that professionals can help you – but please don’t “self diagnose”.
A person with dyslexia may demonstrate a few of the following challenging learning behaviors:
- Reads without fluency. Often will mispronounce words, omit words, substitute words or hesitate and need to start over.
- Has a hard time knowing what letters make which sounds. This is called phonemic awareness. Some children with read letters wrong and thus identify their sounds incorrectly. A child who reads pal instead of gal because they read the p for g and then identified the wrong sound, is one example. It also shows some letter confusion visually. Also, a child who hears the “p” sounds instead of “b” sound may think they heard pad instead of bad.
- Reversals of letters or words. In younger children, we consider reversing letters a developmental stage. After all TOYS R US made it clear that this was a “kid thing” by flipping the R between TOYS and US… But by the THIRD GRADE, this is something we don’t expect students to do.
So, what can parents do?
Here are some strategies that I recommend to parents to help spurn a love of reading, writing, and even math in their child who struggles. Let’s face it- a child who hates to read or cannot write may miss out – especially as they grow older. So let’s try to prevent this from happening by incorporating reading and writing into our everyday lives!
TIP 1: READ ANYTHING…
My parents use to say I could read anything I wanted to read. If I wanted to read a magazine instead of a storybook before bedtime -that was OK. In high school, I would find all the scary novels on the library shelves and take them home devouring them as fast as I could turn the pages. So my philosophy is to allow your child to read just about anything.
TIP 2: LIVE BY EXAMPLE…
Parents who demonstrate their appreciation for the written word pass on that behavior to their children more times than not. Perhaps setting a time each week as “family read time” would be a great way to have a shared family experience that will transcend beyond your home and into the classroom.
TIP 3: MAKE READING AND WRITING FUN! …
Did you know that many board games involve reading and often writing? Games that are trademarked and have withstood the test of time are often current family favorites. They also have invaluable lessons. So grab Monopoly, Scrabble, Boggle, Risk, Scatterfories, Code Names, Trivia Pursuit (and the “junior” edition) and the countless other games available and play, play, play!
Here is a list I have posted before of common games and what skills they teach. This is by no means an exhaustive list and you may note that many of these games are for 8 and up. So they start around the second or third-grade level.
Trivia Pursuit – helps with turn-taking and general knowledge
Monopoly teaches reading, about money, strategy building, and for many – disappointment!
CLUE is a game that teaches reading, memory and deductive reasoning skills. The same is true for GUESS WHO.
YAHTZEE teaches great math skills – from addition to multiplication. Also a visual discrimination exercise.
MEMORY – well it teaches just that!
CONNECT 4 helps with visual memory and perception.
SCRABBLE is all about word building.
SCATTEGORIES is hones in on language skills like categorization and associations.
CODE NAMES is a fairly new game in comparison to some of these others and it too teaches about memory and word usage.
TIP 4: REGULAR PAPER CAN BE BORING! SHAKE IT UP!
If the opportunity for creativity arises – shake up learning by using unique online programs, different color paper, or templates for cartoons! A diary or journal can spark writing in many kids.
I recently discovered CANVA’s EDUCATIONAL WEBSITE. Here are some examples of what you can make using this dynamic site. There are many pricing options you can pick- some are free.
AND… a few more tips
*Play classical music in the background as your child is working or reading.
*Have your child read a recipe to you and cook that meal!
*Go to museums, art galleries, national parks, or any place that is culturally rich and reading is needed to enhance the experience
*Ask a relative or friend to be your child’s pen pal!
*Invest, if you can, in art materials. Yard sales are great to purchase used items that can be turned into artistic masterpieces!
*Have your child read in a different place than where they do homework. Like on a porch chair or in a special reading nook – just for them!
*Have your child read to you or teach you new words. Playing teacher is a very instrumental way for your child to actually LEARN!
In closing, I love third-graders. In fact, I love watching children of all ages learn. But, I recognize as a psychologist and a parent that third grade was one of those “tough years”. So, if you feel that your child really is having difficulties with learning or your child’s teachers are continually concerned – then consider asking for a referral to see if support could be offered. Know that usually there are many steps before a special education referral is made. Such as RTI- tiered intervention to help a child struggling with academic attainment. Also you may be told about a 504 plan – something discussed earlier in this series.
I wish you all a happy school year –