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Developmental milestones for second and third graders

By Amanda Morin

At a Glance

  • Second and third graders start understanding more complicated ideas, like cause and effect.

  • Kids this age get better at using language to express emotions and ideas.

  • Second and third graders tend to be easily influenced by their peers.

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By the time kids start second and third grade, school isn’t new to them. But the skills they develop in these years are. You may not be expecting to see big changes in your child. But at this age, kids make leaps in language and in the ways they think. Their social-emotional skills grow, too.

Check out these developmental milestones to get a sense of which skills you can expect to see develop over the next few years. Remember, though, that not all kids develop at the same pace. If your child hasn’t yet gotten the hang of all of these things, it’s OK.  

Physical milestones

At ages 7 and 8, kids work on refining their physical skills. Their fine motor control and stamina may improve. Most second and third graders:

  • Gain strength in both big and small muscles

  • Can play and be active for longer periods without getting tired

  • Use the small muscles in their hands to get better at things like holding a pencil correctly and forming letters accurately

  • Can run farther and for longer

  • Ride a bike without training wheels

  • Develop sports skills like catching a small ball

  • Tie shoes, button, and do up zippers without help

  • Coordinate movements to do things like follow a dance routine

  • May begin to type fairly quickly on a keyboard

At-home connection: Participation without pressure. Help your child choose extracurricular activities that focus on strengths and passions.

Cognitive milestones

At this age, thinking and problem-solving skills are taking off. Kids tend to talk at a more adult level and start to explore specific activities that interest them. Most kids this age:

  • Look for the reasons behind things and ask questions for more information

  • Understand cause and effect and make more in-depth connections (for example, know that if 6 + 2 = 8, then 8 ‒ 6 = 2)

  • Use those connections to do more complex math like multiplication and division  

  • Start planning ahead (for example, create a drawing of something to build or a plan for an experiment)

  • Can sit and pay attention to something that interests them for at least 30–45 minutes

  • Start collecting things

  • May try out different types of writing, like narratives and opinion papers (“Why I liked this book”)

  • Use complex sentences and different types of sentences to express ideas clearly

  • Recognize and know the value of coins

  • Learn how to do addition and subtraction with regrouping (also known as “borrowing”)

At-home connection: Experiencing endless arguments? Watch as an expert shows how to teach kids to solve problems and take ownership of the decisions and results.

Language milestones

Language development typically continues at a steady pace these two years. Kids start trying out words they’ve read but not heard, so you may hear some mispronunciations. By the end of third grade, most kids:

  • Understand what they read and begin to move from “learning to read” to “reading to learn”

  • Learn vocabulary through reading

  • Use words to talk through problems, both socially and academically

  • Start playing with words to make puns; understand jokes and riddles

  • Test out “bad” words for shock value

  • Use all letter sounds correctly; don’t substitute w for r anymore when speaking

  • Use writing to express feelings, tell stories, and summarize information

At-home connection: Describe the day. Use this tip and nine other tricks to help your child communicate better.

Social and emotional milestones

Second and third grade can be a little rough socially and emotionally. Kids start narrowing down to a few good friends, but those friendships can change quickly. Most kids are eager to fit in and try out new personalities to see where they fit. By the end of third grade, most kids:

  • Have moments of extreme insecurity and need a lot of encouragement from their family

  • Change often between being helpful and upbeat to being unhelpful and grouchy  

  • Enjoy being part of a team, group, or club

  • Spend more time with and are easily influenced by peers

  • Experience periods of dramatic emotion and impatience (feeling that everyone is against them) and then bounce right back to everything being just fine

  • Start seeing things from other points of view and incorporate that into everyday life

  • Be somewhat aware of others’ perceptions of them

  • Want to behave well, but aren’t yet very attentive to directions

  • Share secrets and jokes with friends

At-home connection: Does your child fall apart after school? Learn why — and how you can help.

These milestones are typical for this two-year span, but kids develop at their own pace. If you’re concerned that your child isn’t meeting a number of these milestones or is struggling in one particular area of development, connect with your child’s health care provider or teacher. They can help you take a closer look at what’s going on and come up with a plan.  

Key Takeaways

  • By the end of third grade, kids tend to find something they enjoy doing and may be able to pay attention to that activity for nearly an hour, if not longer.

  • Don’t be surprised if your child is moody one minute and OK the next — it’s pretty typical for second and third graders.

  • If you have concerns about your child meeting milestones, speak with your child’s health care provider or teacher.


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  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Email
  • Text Message
  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom