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How a 3rd Grader Thinks

How a 3rd Grader Thinks

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Updated on Sep 17, 2008

When your child hits third grade, homework kicks in in earnest. Despite the increase in workload, your child still has a lot of growing up to do. You can help her make the transition, by understanding what she is and is not capable of absorbing.

Jean Piaget, the psychologist credited with forming the theory of cognitive development in the late 1920s, created a list of mental limitations for a variety of age groups. Here's what third graders are capable of understanding, according to Piaget:

  • Third graders can comprehend multiple aspects of a problem while solving it. That means they can have a math problem with both addition and subtraction and they won't get confused.

  • Third graders can understand and manipulate symbols related to concrete objects. They know, for example, that the minus sign means subtraction and can use it when appropriate.

  • Third graders are logical, even though they may still jump to crazy conclusions. You will be able to understand even their most imaginative ideas.

  • Third graders should be able to reverse their thinking. They can trace the mental steps that drew them to a conclusion, and analyze those steps for flaws. This is a crucial development for math.

  • Third graders are in the process of moving out of the egocentric stage, so they should understand that not everyone sees the world as they see it. But if there’s still a hint of "the world revolves around me,” don’t worry. The more you expose them to other people, especially children, the faster they’ll leave this stage.

  • A third grader should be able to tell if there is a difference in number, length, volume and substance when comparing two objects. If they watch someone break clay into little pieces and then put the pieces back together,they will realize it's still the same amount of clay.

Of course, every child is different, but Piaget's list offers a set of general touchstones. Use it to set appropriate expectations. And then revel in the bumps and blips, the surges and false starts, as your child finds her own way.

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