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A Guide to Every Grade

Jon Whittle
          • Fifth Grade

            In many schools, the fifth-graders are the oldest, and they love it. While they still tend to have a natural love of learning, they are also moving toward preadolescence. Some are more willing than ever before to test their limits, question authority, and be distracted by nonacademic activities. That said, many fifth-graders are still happy children, keen on acquiring knowledge and learning facts. This is a year, too, in which technical proficiency in special areas, such as music, may blossom. While fifth grade is a lot like fourth grade in the academic ground it covers, fifth-graders are expected to act with an ever-increasing amount of independence and responsibility.

            What to Expect

            1. Long-term research projects and reports. In fifth grade, reports get longer, require independent research, and delve into more complex materials. If there is a computer at home, you may suddenly see your child doing more than playing on it. The Web may become a useful resource.

            2. Current events. Regardless of the appropriateness of the news for children, fifth-graders are captivated by the world around them, and will often have assignments oriented toward reading the newspaper.

            3. Public speaking. Dynamic fifth-grade classes encourage a lot of public speaking opportunities  -- from writing and delivering actual speeches, to a variety of chances for oral presentations. Attend to how your child handles this.

            4. Math gets hard. Maybe not for your child, but for you. Parents often find that fifth-grade math takes them beyond what they comfortably remember. As in fourth grade, it's crucial for you to stay in touch with your child's mathematical progress, or lack of progress.

            5. Sex in the classroom? The time has come, in fifth grade in most schools, for presentations on health and sexuality. Bodies will be changing soon  -- it's natural, and so, too, should be learning about it.

            6. Fifth-grade events. Especially as the spring arrives, fifth grade may end up seeming to be, most of all, about itself: A celebration of the upcoming graduation and the end of the elementary-school career, through a series of special events, often including a major field trip.

            Watch Out for:



            • "Forgotten" homework. Fifth grade is a big year for nightly calls about homework. If your child is making, rather than receiving, these calls, explore the reasons  -- there could be organizational problems.


            • Overscheduling. Inherently busy and social, your fifth-grader may end up with little time to do her homework and get a good night's sleep.


            • Peer pressure. Fifth-graders can become very sensitive to having the "right" clothes, hairstyles, and musical tastes. Be aware of this, but be sure, too, not to approach conversations with your child judgmentally. Keeping the lines of communication open will be one of your greatest challenges.