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A Guide to Every Grade

Jon Whittle
        • Fourth Grade

          In fourth grade, for perhaps the first time, school can get tough. Gone is the gentle focus of younger-grade teachers on basic skills and social development. Now, there are hard subjects to grapple with, more schoolwork and homework to organize, and real tests to study for  -- as the saying goes, in fourth grade, children stop learning to read and start reading to learn. What is more, fourth-graders must navigate an increasingly complex social environment, with new sensitivity to who the "smart" ones or "popular" ones are. Fourth-graders are not as ready to distance themselves from their parents as children another year or two down the road. For some it is the last innocent year.

          What to Expect

          1. Homework gets serious. If your child does not have a homework routine in place, he might find himself overwhelmed as fourth grade  -- with its 40 minutes or more of homework  -- gets under way. And now there are plenty of real tests to study for. Be sure your child's organizational skills are up to the task without being too bossy yourself.

          2. Three-ring binders. The next sign of a maturing student, after the textbooks in third grade, are the three-ring binders (complete with dividers) of the fourth-grader.

          3. State history. Expect to find out more than you yourself ever knew about the state you live in.

          4. Shapes of things. While fourth-grade math is largely an extension of third-grade math (more multiplication, more division, more fractions), there is also more geometry, which often fascinates children this age.

          5. Researching skills. One of the ways fourth-graders utilize their reading skills is by learning how to apply reading to gather information and to understand other subjects  -- especially history, geography, and science.

          6. Physical differences. Fourth grade is marked by potentially large physical differences in children. While some still look young, others look nearly ready for middle school.

          Watch Out for:



          • Math hesitancy. If your fourth-grader considers math "hard," talk to the teacher. Fourth-grade math should not be beyond most children's abilities.


          • Sensitive feelings. In cliques and rivalries brews much opportunity for hurt feelings. Friendships can also bring tension and conflict. On top of this, fourth-graders are more sensitive than younger children to what other people think of them.


          • The end of reading at home. Just because your child is old enough to read on his own does not mean you should stop reading to him out loud. Most children still love this time with their parents.