In addition to playing alone, third graders love spending time with their friends. And they're often eager to move their bodies around after being cooped up in a classroom. So anything that involves socializing and movement is generally appealing — whether it's running around and riding bikes in the neighborhood, or joining a class in dance, karate, skating, swimming, or gymnastics after school. If your child has participated in these activities before, you may notice exciting strides this year, thanks to her greater strength and coordination.

The same goes for organized team sports. Third-graders are better at playing baseball, soccer, basketball, and other sports, and they're better at remembering the rules. In fact, kids this age tend to learn the rules of a game quickly — and then argue about the finer points vehemently. But they aren't quite as good at actually following the rules, so you can't expect too much. It's still too soon to push your child into a rigid or highly competitive league.

Activities that involve finer motor skills — such as sewing, weaving, painting, woodworking, or learning to play an instrument — are also good choices now, because children can do more with them.

There is no set formula for what your child should do, however. The best advice is: Follow his interests as much as possible, while keeping a close eye on energy and stress levels. And let him explore different kinds of activities, instead of trying to specialize in one. If there's something he develops a passion for, he can always return to it later, after he's discovered for himself what else he's good at and likes to do.

Plan in Family Time
When it comes to play dates, you mainly have to be careful that you don't schedule in too many. As Peggy Schmidt, a mother of two, notes, "Socializing after school hits a new frenzy in third grade. There are a lot more play dates scheduled during the week, and there are birthday parties and sleepovers on the weekends. My daughter could easily go a whole weekend without ever sleeping in her own bed. I find that every now and then I just have to say, 'No. No more play dates. You're spending time with me today!'"

Teachers wish many parents would do that more often. As one principal notes, "Third graders may not look as cuddly and vulnerable as first and second graders, but deep down they're just little kids. They still need — and want — to spend time with their parents." But that impulse won't last forever.