the challenges of the third grade

Landisdad and I were talking the other night about how, on the Bee’s first day of kindergarten, all the third graders looked enormous. And now we have a third grader, and while she’s a big, independent girl, she’ll also always be our kindergartener, venturing into school for the first time.

The third grade has some major challenges, by the way.

There are letter grades for the first time. Also state testing. There is a nightly homework log, which must be signed by the parent (although there hasn’t been any homework yet). There is handwriting (and already, the Bee’s teacher has called her out for “holding her pencil the wrong way”). Grrr. Wouldn’t third graders be better served by learning to touch-type, at this point, than learning cursive?

Third grade is upstairs, in our little red brick schoolhouse. Upstairs with the other big kids, like the sixth graders. Away from the safe haven of the kindergarten, away from the warm embrace of the school secretary. Third grade involves both a student teacher and a co-teacher, in addition to the regular teacher. So many adults telling you what to do!

There are new opportunities in third grade too. There is the ability to play flag football after school, on a team with other (and bigger) kids from her school. There is the third grade bake sale (for which, the Bee has already declared, landisdad, and not I, will bake). Third grade is when you’re allowed to walk to school by yourself, although the Bee told me this afternoon, “I’m kind of afraid of walking to school alone.”

Last night, after the Potato was in bed, the Bee and I sat on her bed and talked about the first day of third grade. I had to work late yesterday, so I didn’t get to pick her up from school, but I did want to hear all about her day, and her new class. One of her best friends moved away over the summer, and a couple of new kids transferred in to her class–3 boys and 1 girl, so the girl-to-boy ratio must be approaching even at this point (last year it was something like 11:8). Like her mother, the Bee is most comfortable in situations where she knows what is going to happen, and is confident that she can meet the challenges, and my sense is that she isn’t quite there yet about third grade.

She told me that her new teacher insisted that they use “big” words, not “baby” words–the one she made a point of telling me about was “astronomical” (which the Bee is curiously not able to pronounce–thus leading to her frustration with this policy). I made her laugh by telling her that I had been listening to her talk for almost eight years, and that she had progressed from “googoo gahgah” to having a fine and advanced vocabulary, that I was confident that she would not have any trouble with the ‘big’ words that her teacher insisted on.

I feel like I’m walking a fine line between saying supportive things like, “I have confidence in you and your ability to learn,” not wanting to blurt out things like, “but you get better grades than everyone in your class–every teacher that you’ve had says you’re one of their best students ever.” I don’t want her to feel like she has to succeed at the expense of other students, but I do want her to be happy and confident and secure in her own abilities.

One of the things that landisdad and I struggle with most with the Bee’s academic work is our desire not to pass on our own insanely perfectionist tendencies. If I could wish one wish for her, it’s that she could learn to face her mistakes–and her successes–with grace and dignity.

I had to work at home this afternoon, so I picked her up right after school. We walked home, and talked about the day, and then we got into the house, and she curled up in my lap like she was eight months instead of eight years old. I know that this process will be fleeting–a few weeks from now, she’ll be back to her usual self. But it’s nice to be able to indulge her while she’s going through the transition.

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September 6, 2007. growing up, thoughtful parenting. 6 comments.