Mommy Chronicles

This column was originally supposed to be written a few weeks into the school year as a third grade survival guide for the many parents going through the shock and awe of third grade.

But now that we’re well into the school year and things have calmed down, I thought it would be helpful for those parents of younger kids who are blissfully unaware of what’s coming their way when their child begins third grade.

Let me start by saying this - third grade is an entirely different beast.

In my first parent-teacher conference of the year, I jokingly referred to it as a “bucket of ice water poured onto my unsuspecting head.”

I should’ve gotten a clue when the teacher’s websites all had “Third Grade Survival Guides” on them. “Foster responsibility in your child,” they cautioned. “This year you will see tremendous growth and independence.”

There were days when I stood outside Daniel’s school with a group of other moms and we all seemed shellshocked. Would our kids get through third grade, we wondered? Would we?

“Third grade is like boot camp,” my sister-in-law, Beth Menis, a 22-year teaching veteran who has taught third grade for the past nine years, said to me when I called her for advice in those first crazy weeks.

“First, the volume of work is..much more than the year before. The level of independence is quadrupled. I expect them to hit the ground running. They have to be organized.”

This organization was hard for my son. Keeping all the different folders and books and assignments straight while switching to three different classes was challenging. And it caused a great deal of stress for both of us.

Other kids struggled with the increased workload, with the homework that sometimes took hours in those first months. And others, with the different expectations of learning required.

This is a year where kids are held  accountable. It is also in third grade when parents often find out their kids need extra help or figure out that they may have learning issues previously unknown.

“If your child really isn’t getting something...you need to communicate that to the teacher. And you need to help them.” says Beth. “And if you need to hire a tutor to stay at the top of the game, that’s what you should do.”  

On the other hand, she cautions, you need to take a step back where homework is concerned so your child becomes an independent learner.  But parents still have an important role.

“Check their work after to make sure they understand it,” she says.

Her advice to freaked out parents? “Relax. It’s going to get better. Your children will realize they can handle it. By December, kids will be much more responsible...and completely in control. Things that took an hour in the beginning will take 10 - 15 minutes.”

So far, she’s right. Daniel has settled into the routines and his organization has gotten better. And already, he is much more independent than he was at the beginning of the year. I, too, have grown and learned to step back while he does his homework.

Beth’s final words of advice sum it up nicely: “Children are equipped to deal with change much less when we are. They...do better with structure, when they know the rules of the game. Once they understand the rules, they’re in better shape.”

So be prepared when your child heads to third grade but know that while for many it’s a big adjustment, it does get better.

Lauren Menis is a Dunwoody mother whose column appears in The Crier each month. You can reach Lauren at lauren.menis@gmail.com

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