In the four and a half years I’ve been teaching I have come to know very well that third grade is a big year for child development. Every year in elementary school yields leaps and bounds of growth, but third grade parents are always amazed at how different their children behave throughout the year, sometimes good different and sometimes bad, and how much difficulty they have socially. And the social aspects of third grade are an even bigger deal than academics, which are substantially harder than second grade.
So I have started to prepare the parents ahead of time by providing them with what to expect. I don’t put together anything fancy. The Internet is abound with resources for the taking. I just send the parents links like this and include social development information in our third grade parent handbook, which you can see here.
One of these social difficulties third graders face is egocentrism. Third graders usually think only of themselves. This is completely developmentally normal, but in third grade it starts becoming an issue with friendships and peer relationships.
I’ve recently had trouble with the students’ cubbies. They don’t have desks, so all of their school belongings reside in their cubbies. I have had a lot of student and parent complaints of pushing, name-calling, and “bullying” around of the cubbies. (For the record, I don’t like the word bullying. 95% of the time parents and students actually mean meanness or rudeness, not bullying. I think I’ll write another post about the difference.) Egocentrism, third graders only thinking about themselves, is really the trouble. One of my students gets pushed and they automatically think that the other child is has a personal vendetta against them and is being a “bully.” What I am working so hard to do this year is to get students to:
1) Always think the best of people. Don’t assume because someone pushes you that they hate you and are being a “bully.” It is much better to assume it was an accident (and the majority of the time it was.)
And 2) on the flip side, think about how your words and actions come across to other people. (This is for the person that does the pushing.) This is a difficult task for many adults and I tell my students that. If you are trying to get to your cubby and you accidently push another student (which is the case most of them time,) or if you push another student because you are joking around to be funny, they might see it as “bullying,” or the student standing next to them that also got pushed (domino effect) might think it is “bullying.”
My students and I have a lot of conversations about this. We talk about self-awareness and being aware of how your words and actions are perceived by others. We also constantly discuss how we can’t control other people’s actions or words, but we can control how we react to them. So our reaction is the part we should focus on.
Because of all this cubby talk, I have kept a much closer watch at what goes on by the cubbies, and there was a lot of goofing around. I put a piece of tape on the floor and the rule is that if somebody is getting things from the cubby right next to yours, you must wait behind the line until they are finished. So now the cubbies have been declared a no talking zone. Students get what they need quickly and quietly and move on to allow other students access. We also have discussed how you can grab what you need and then move away to organize things, or get your snack out of your lunch, or put your coat on. All those things don’t need to be done right next to the cubbies. My goal is that the tape won’t last forever, that the students will learn to be patient and share our classroom space effectively without the crutch of the tape. But for the time being it is a reminder to them.