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It Starts Around Third Grade

Debra Lambrecht, Founder, Caulbridge Education | December 3, 2017

Academics tend to break down around third grade, when childrenEvan doing math - cropped go from learning-to-read to reading-to-learn; or from simple arithmetic to more complex math concepts. In the earlier grades it is more likely that learning differences will go unnoticed because children are quick to develop compensation strategies. As the learning becomes more complex, these strategies tend to fall apart.

Whenever I hear a well-meaning adult helping with homework say to a child, “I’m going to show you a trick” I shudder because it generally means they are offering a procedural trick without the comprehension behind it. Instead, when a child is struggling, they likely need the concepts broken down further, more concretely, rather than layering a trick over the misunderstanding.

While it starts around third grade, these learning challenges are not without warning signs as early as kindergarten. A strong foundation for academics requires an understanding of one-to-one correspondence, and the ability to decode and encode (break down and build up) numbers and symbols. This number-symbol relationship is developed in direct correlation to the natural physical and sensory developments of the child. Building a strong picture of numbers and symbols can help to activate and sustain working memory and other brain processes necessary for more advanced learning. Working memory also correlates to spatial awareness, balance and imagination. Children with under-developed working memory may appear scattered, have poor motor control, and be drawn to sensory seeking behaviors like fidgeting, pushing or rough play. When these foundational skills are under-developed, giving a child a ‘trick’ procedure is not likely to result in more effective learning. Building proprioceptive capacity also known as spatial awareness in support of working memory however will in turn support academics.

Ask your child’s teacher if you have questions about delays in development, learning styles or social-emotional concerns about your child. Rather than waiting until third grade to identify learning challenges, at Caulbridge School we work to balance a child’s sensory-motor, social-emotional and academic development.

For example, a fourth grade student was highly intelligent and savvy beyond his years in many ways. In his previous school settings he had social and behavior problems, and academically his writing and math levels did not match his intellect. Upon enrolling him, mom said she’d get him a math tutor if needed because she didn’t want him to fall further behind. I suggested we wait to get to know him first before piling on more math when he was so resistant to math.

After just a few days his teacher reported ‘he doesn’t know his right from his left!’ You cannot hold a picture of place value if you don’t know your right from your left. It is impossible to remember that you read from left to right and add from right to left. We worked for a couple of weeks with right/left games (crossing the mid-line) and jumping rope (resisting gravity for vestibular system/balance) and climbing trees (core strength and spatial awareness). In a few weeks we noticed some physical development in his body and about the same time, his math skills dropped in. He could now see the patterns and quickly caught up to grade level.

One of our 3 Foundational Principles at Caulbridge School is ‘Learning is Physiological and Begins in the Body’.