The biggest change in most (though not all) third grade classrooms is the shift to hardcover textbooks. You remember: the thick, heavy ones you had to cover with paper, and you couldn't write in. There's a good chance your child will be issued four or five of them this year, for math, science, social studies, health, and English.

But it's not the books themselves that are significant. It's what they represent in terms of independent learning. From now on — even in classrooms that rely on softcover trade books and novel sets, instead of traditional textbooks — you'll see a greater emphasis on reading as a means of acquiring information.

Your child will be doing more silent reading in the classroom, and more independent research at home. She may have fewer worksheets and more assignments that require copying problems and other information from a textbook into a notebook. And she'll probably be expected to read more nonfiction materials in preparation for small-group or class discussions.

Your child may even start using textbooks to study for tests, or to learn on her own new information about math, science, history, and social studies. "I was really surprised to find that in my daughter's third grade class, the teacher doesn't spend a lot of time at the blackboard giving lessons in math," says Peggy Schmidt, a mother of two. "Instead, each child moves through the math textbook at his or her own pace, and goes to the teacher for mini-lessons and questions."

Give the Process Time
Making the transition from learning to read to reading to learn is easier for some children than others. Those who find it most difficult tend to be the ones who are struggling with reading to begin with. But even strong readers may feel intimidated at first, so it's important to be patient and supportive while this shift in learning takes place.

Most third grade teachers won't go cold turkey, anyway. They'll balance out the independent reading assignments with hands-on activities and real-life learning experiences.