E. D. Hirsch, Jr., is an emeritus professor at the University of Virginia and the author of The Knowledge Deficit, The Schools We Need, and the bestselling Cultural Literacy and the Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. He and his wife, Polly, live in Charlottesville, Virginia, where they raised their three children.
The best way to nurture your child's reading and writing abilities is to provide rich literary experiences and find frequent and varied opportunities to work and play with language.
By the end of second grade, children have developed a reading vocabulary of familiar words and can decode the letter-sound patterns of many unfamiliar one- and two- syllable words. During third grade, as they increase their knowledge about words (including the concepts of syllables, prefixes, and suffixes), they put that knowledge to work, decoding unfamiliar multisyllabic words. If a child has not mastered the skill of decoding simple words, that practice should continue.
By third grade, the mental process of turning letters into sounds should be nearly automatic. This year, children focus more on meaning as they read. Their reading vocabulary expands tremendously, as does their ability to read longer and more complex literature. They read for information and begin to use nonfiction reference books like children's dictionaries and encyclopedias. They learn the distinction between fiction and nonfiction, and they read and enjoy longer and more complicated "chapter books."
In third grade, children continue to learn about language as they write it: identifying parts of speech, properly using punctuation, and recognizing sentence types. They begin to shape their own writing, understanding how paragraphs relate in a larger whole and exerting more control over vocabulary and structure.
Parents can do many things to help their children reach these new levels of understanding language:
Read aloud to your child.While third graders are beginning to read on their own, they also still enjoy listening. Continue reading aloud, both fiction and nonfiction, even as your child becomes an independent reader.
Have your child read aloud to you.
Visit the library with your child.
Encourage your child to write letters or keep a journal.
Play word games with your child. Scrabble, Hangman, Boggle, and other popular games that involve spelling, word recognition, and vocabulary development combine fun with language facility.
Find language wherever you go. Use road signs, advertising, magazines—the written word all around you—to keep your child thinking and talking about language.
Support your child's interests through reading. When your child shows an interest in something special-insects or baseball, Davy Crockett or ballet-go together to the library to find more to read on that subject.
The more a child reads and writes, the more fluent in language that child becomes. By using these strategies, you communicate the enjoyment of reading and writing and you help build the foundation for learning that will last a lifetime.
The American Heritage First Dictionary (Houghton Mifflin). Simple words, clear definitions, and ample visuals provide a helpful introduction to how a dictionary works.
E. D. Hirsch, Jr., A First Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (Houghton Mifflin). Some entries may be difficult for a third grader, but this book can serve as a single-volume encyclopedia of American culture.
Macmillan Dictionary for Children (Simon & Schuster). This dictionary offers 35,000 expanded entries with easy-to-read pronunciations, synonym lists, and color illustrations.
The World Book Student Discovery Encyclopedia (World Book Inc.). This multivolume reference is structured like a standard encyclopedia but designed and written so third graders can look things up and read entries easily.
Educators Publishing Service (EPS) is a mail-order company with good teacher-created resources including basic phonics, spelling, vocabulary development, reading comprehension, grammar, and composition skills. Write to EPS, 31 Smith Place, Cambridge, MA 02138-1089, call 800-435-7728, or visit www.epsbooks.com.
This selection of poetry, stories, and myths can be read aloud or, in many cases, read independently by third graders. We hope you'll take it as a starting point in your search for more literature for your child to read and enjoy.
We have included both traditional and modern poetry. Poems can be silly, written for the sheer enjoyment of rhythm and rhyme, or they can be serious. Rhythm and rhyme make poetry the perfect literature for a third grader to memorize.
The stories selected here include classic folktales from many cultures and excerpts from great works of children's literature. Some of them have been chosen as literary links to topics elsewhere in the book. In the case of book-length works, we can provide only short excerpts, hoping that you and your child will read the rest on your own.
This book continues the effort, begun in previous books, to share the wealth of classical mythology. Since third graders learn about ancient Rome, several myths were chosen to convey a sense of Roman history. Likewise we offer some Norse mythology. Parents can coordinate readings about literature and history. Age-old myths also give parents the opportunity to discuss traditional virtues such as friendship, courage, and honesty.
For a frequently updated list of recommended children's books thematically linked to the subjects offered in this book and others in the Core Knowledge Series, consult Resources to Build On on the Core Knowledge Foundation Web site, at www.coreknowledge.org.
Favorite Poems Old and New, selected by Helen Ferris (Doubleday). One volume with more than seven hundred poems, including many perennial favorites.
William F. Russell, Classic Myths to Read Aloud (Crown Publishers). This book retells Greek and Roman myths in language with a suitably old-fashioned feel.
Spider, Cricket, and Muse. Colorful magazines, with intelligent material, that give children plenty of good monthly reading experiences with no advertising. Spider, for children aged six to nine, and Cricket, for children aged nine to fourteen, include stories, activities, and puzzles. Muse, sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution, offers science articles for children aged eight to fourteen. To subscribe to any of these, write the Cricket Magazine Group, Box 7499, Red Oak, IA 51591, call (800) 827-0227, or visit www.cricketmag.com.