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Practical Homeschooling® :

Exploring Interests in the Real World: Third Grade Tips

By Melissa Morgan
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #76, 2007.

Third grade on a shoestring.
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Melissa Morgan

Are you and your third grader battling over schoolwork? As reading and math become complex, some children seem to take forever to read a page or figure out a math problem. Others associate math or reading with boring, repetitive drills.

Share hands-on hobbies, and spur progress in academic subjects. Nurture your child's interests, such as model planes, knights of the Middle Ages, bugs, shells, space, sports cards, rocketry, and dinosaurs. Interests spark your third grader's hunger to read more difficult material, develop higher level math skills, and can build into collections that may span years or even decades of learning.

Explore unit studies and lapbook making, for inexpensive hands-on learning projects. Check out Unit Studies Made Easy by Valerie Bendt, unitstudy.com (Amanda Bennett), handsofachild.com and tobinslab.com to find out more.

Kids practice writing and math when they document and catalog their collections. They sharpen math skills, when they learn to count rhythm in music, play an instrument, and keep track of sports statistics or how many coins or stamps they own. Science, gardening, and craft projects encourage kids to weigh and measure objects. In art, your child can use geometric shapes to draw houses, barns, people and animals. Kids who love to cook can naturally learn how many cups are in a pint, pints in a quart, and quarts in a gallon. Birthdays and other holidays interest all kids, and offer the opportunity for relatives to add to a collection or launch a new interest.

Some parents say, "But my child has no interests, hates to read, and can't understand math!" It may help to put away the traditional schoolbooks for awhile. Encourage reading, writing and math through hands-on learning games and activities. Make learning playful instead of painful. Visit your local library for an abundant source of audio/visual materials such as Rap with the Facts (Twin Sisters) or Learning to Read with Phonics by Barbara Phipps. Whenever possible, let your child choose what materials to use, rotate borrowed resources, and evade boredom for both you and your child.

Create your own personalized wipe-off books: high-interest words (usually words about your child's interests), words on the Dolch reading list of most-frequently-used words, multiplication facts, or fractions. Carefully print them on a placemat-sized piece of poster paper, then cover with clear plastic. Your child can practice tracing or writing answers to problems with erasable pens. Keep the mats on the table and kids will work them on their own.

Your child already knows how to use parts of speech-nouns, prepositions, verbs, and adverb concepts-for speaking. Writing can be just as easy as speaking, if you write to people you care about, about subjects that interest you. Encourage letter writing (either by hand or on on the computer) to relatives, friends, pen pals, favorite authors, missionaries, or scientists. Real-world writing projects will help your child fine tune third-grade skills as they need to know them. Point out compound words, suffixes (-s, -ed, -ing), telling and asking sentences, capitalization, quotation marks, and apostrophes. Draw attention to confusing words, as they come up, such as no/any, can/may, is/are, does/do, and to/too/two.

Let your child pick out inexpensive, attractive blank books and writing implements from dollar stores or sales. Start a story, either fictional or nonfiction, about a topic that your child loves to talk about. Then stop in the middle of a sentence. Wait for your child to finish. Take turns adding to the story. If your child is unable to write without frustration, write the story down yourself. Or try writing the story for your child to trace or copy.

Seize the moment; practice math skills during times when kids are a captive audience, such as while traveling in the car or waiting in line at the store. Find real-world reasons to multiply, such as discovering how to count money quickly. Use manipulatives from your child's collections-such as building bricks, small dolls, shells, or coins-to learn math concepts and facts. My youngest loves to collect and play with counting bears (small plastic bears of various colors). She practices multiplication facts as we play "Bear Band," lining bears up into sets and rows of two, four, six, ten, etc.

A third grader can enjoy practicing biblical stewardship and learn how math works at the same time. Handling money encourages real-world problem solving. Kids learn place value with dollars and cents, practice adding and subtracting 3-digit to 3-digit numbers, and use carrying and borrowing. Let your kids help you figure out how much an item will cost after discounts or coupons. If you buy a craft set for one dollar, and you get one free, how much does each set really cost? If you save ten cents from every dollar, how much money will you have left? Larry Burkett's book, Money Matters for Kids, offers tips on teaching kids money management.

Most children learn about time if and when they develop the desire to learn. Give children a clock, calendar, or timer, and they will want to learn how to use them. Hands-on learners can make their own calendar or schedule. Include daily activities as well as dates for birthdays, holidays, sports or clubs. How many months or days until a special holiday or vacation?

You and your child can make your own model clock. Trace around a dinner plate, on a piece of cardboard, to make a model clock. Write the numbers for the hours. Draw a small line for each minute around the outer edge of the clock, and cut small narrow strips for the clock hands. Pin the hands in the center. Put a counting bear, button, or a very small toy, next to each minute line, making a circle of sixty objects around the outer edge. Now, you can ask, "It is 11:45. How many more bears until 12:00?" Whoever said school can't be fun?

Travel the world together-virtually. Ask your local librarian to help you find appropriate audio/visual materials and books on learning to read maps, flags, signs, the compass, and directions. Place a map under a clear tablecloth or place a globe next to your television; look up near or far away places. Pick up freebies on many subjects, including animals, natural resources, pledges, famous buildings, state capitals, Washington, D.C., governors, mayors, presidents, rules and laws, your local communities, businesses, farms, and public safety. Check fire departments, police stations, local offices of tourism, and the division of parks, recreation, and forestry for free maps, resources and information. Contact city, state, county, and federal government web sites or offices. Over the years, we've acquired hundreds of fun, free educational materials from government and industry sources, including software, movies, books, coloring books, activity kits, stickers, and toy badges. (Check my website for an abundance of educational freebies.)

Homeschooling your third grader can be a joyful adventure; it can also be a trial at times. Focus on hands-on, real world learning, character development and interests. Your young learner will be equipped for challenges, both in school and in life.

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