3rd Grade: Common Benchmarks and Sticky Spots

Third grade is the most difficult year of elementary school for most students and families. Third graders are not “little” kids anymore and still  are not ready for the rigor and challenge of upper elementary.

Each age is special for both teachers and parents. A general knowledge of developmental stages can support your understanding of your child at home and at school. These stages change continuously as children grow and are relatively universal, meaning that most children go through these common experiences. Most children go through similar stages which dictate to how they relate with adults and peers and approach the world around them. These general characteristics are associated with a given age or grade level however it is totally normal for children to arrive at one stage a little earlier or a little later than their peers. Every child, even siblings and twins, develops at their own rate.  It is also common that a child might mature quickly in one area and more slowly in another. This information is simply one tool to help you appreciate the growth of your child and support their development. The following information is based on research from the Northeast Foundation for Children, the Center for Responsive Schools,  and my own experiences as an educator and school leader.

Generally Speaking:

Third Grade is a stark contrast to second grade. Third graders are not “little” kids anymore but they lack the skill-sets to confidently and independently manage the roles of upper elementary students.  This often means that third grade is a year of “trying things on.” It can sometimes feel like this year is like taking a big step backwards as the enthusiasm of your eight-year-old changes to an anxiousness and a sense that the world is unfair. Savvy child development specialists will tell you that this grappling is an important part of growing up and nine can be a great age of curiosity.

Special Note on Third:

Finding the right teacher for Third Grade is crucial for school administrators. Since this year is a year full of grappling and challenge there will be times that your child’s teacher’s expectations may seem too soft, too strict, too abstract, too immature, too rigorous, or too cold. Trust this teacher. They are experts at their craft and know just what students need at this stage in their development. The most important trait for a teacher at this developmental phase is patience and warmth. Even the best teacher will not allow you to escape the real tough stuff that comes with third grade. A warm and patient teacher will guide you and your learner through the year while cultivating a growth mindset. Embrace the teacher as your partner.


Social Development: Age 8

  • The year starts with a love  of  group activities and cooperative work.
  • Your eight-year-old is likely to prefer playing with peers of the same gender.
  • Eights are fun to talk with because they love to explain their thinking and have a good sense of humor. They enjoy trying on adult conversation.
  • Walking into third grade your child is like feeling confident, resilient, and well-adjusted to change.

Physical Development: Age 8

  • Towards the beginning of the year kids tend to tire easily. They like to work quickly and play hard. Providing several “micro breaks” in homework and in the classroom seems to serve students better that one extended break.
  • Eyes have matured by this point and tend to focus well on objects near and far. This is a good time for a proactive vision screening.
  • Eights have a better sense of control over hand-eye coordinated movements allowing for more artistic penmanship and transferring information from the board to their own notebook.

Cognitive Development: Age 8

  • Eights are interested in the concept of justice and are excited to study and explore rules, logic, and fairness.
  • At this age, students are often impatient and take on more than they can handle because they are full of ideas and have experience industrious problem solving.
  • Sometimes eights will be listening intently, but may not remember what they have heard. Being patient and using visual cues to support complicated instructions support this gap in retention is a key practice for teachers and parents alike.
  • At this stage students are wavering between confident independence and still needing a lot of adult reassurance. You may find your child gives up on difficult tasks easily but when wants to try again soon or that they are both excited and nervous to explore the world more broadly.
  • Eights show developed fine motor skills and are skilled at handwriting, crafts, computers, and creating artwork.


Social Development: Age 9

  • It is normal for your nine-year-old to feel extremely competitive and be highly invested in establishing cliques.
  • Nines tend to be extremely critical of themselves and others including adults.  They tend to complain often and rarely share compliments.
  • This stage often comes with a lot of negative talk including ” I hate,” “I can’t, ” and “It’s boring.”
  • Nines still enjoy group work but it comes with a lot of arguing and conflict.
  • At this stage, kids enjoy edgy humor and exaggerated jokes.
  • Nines need a lot from adults in lightening the mood. The best practices for parents and teachers at this stage is patience, lots of encouragement, and lighthearted humor to reduce anxiety.

Physical Development: Age 9

  • Nines have great coordination and love to roughhouse. The book Opposite of Worry has great advice about using physical (and safe) play as a way to connect and reduce anxiety. READ THIS BOOK to unlock how you can connect with your brooding nine. Seriously, read it.
  • At this stage kids complain about aches and pains a lot and get very restless if in one position for too long.
  • Look for signs of stress bubbling below the surface. Twisting of hair or biting nails may be a sign of concealed anxiousness.

Cognitive Development: Age 9

  • Nines work hard and complete detailed work but may change interests quickly.
  • As they learn more and more about the world, anxiety is often felt about world events, school, parents, friends, and daily activities.
  • At this stage, your kiddo will be less imaginative and care about scientific and factual explanations. Evidence and truthfulness are important to nines.
  • Abstract concepts and areas of ambiguity are hard for nines to understand. Long periods of time, vast areas of space, and large quantities are difficult to comprehend and spark many questions.
  • Third grade is a great time for exposure to social justice issues as nines learn more about the word.
  • This age brings about a lot of interest in special clubs (art, chess, dance, sports, etc.) and developing a “thing” is important to nines.

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