Fourth Grade: Fuel a Desire to Learn During this Critical Year

Fourth grade is a critical year in a student’s academic journey. As children become some of the oldest students in elementary school, they find themselves caught between two worlds: a warm, nurturing environment and an increasingly stimulating setting in which they encounter rich social and academic adventures. Fourth graders still need hands-on support and guidance, but they are also becoming more curious, industrious, and hungry for new challenges.  

A typical fourth grader is impressionable. Students at this age display an unfiltered passion for learning but they are also becoming aware of their limitations and differences. It is imperative for parents and educators to identify this and continue to foster a love of learning. Here are some fundamental approaches educators must embrace in order to fuel a student’s desire to learn:

1. Create an Engaging and Relevant Classroom Environment

We’ve all been in classes where a teacher stands at the front of the room and lectures. You stare out the window, look at the clock, count the seconds, and daydream of how you’ll spend the rest of the day when your time is your own. This outdated style of teaching is often replaced with an emphasis on relevancy and skill-building over the study and memorization of content.

Jamie Ames, a longtime fourth grade teacher at Fessenden, states, “To effectively impact any child, teaching has to be relevant. It has to be fun.” In Jamie’s classroom, fourth graders learn about Westward Expansion through their “Oregon Trail” project. History comes alive, and math, presentation, and analytical skills grow when each boy carefully calculates the weight of essential supplies and treasured personal items for their journey. Using 21st century technology, they build a wagon that would survive the rugged westward trail. Boys get to test their wagons on an actual “Oregon Trail” they build on a campus hillside.

Jamie adds, “You have to give students a goal with real-world implications. If they see that, if they can connect your lesson to the real world, then things will all fall into place.”

2. Keep the Spirit of Childhood Alive

Though fourth graders are capable of tackling more complex work and assignments than ever before, it is important to remember that they are still children. It is imperative to provide them with the time and space to be kids. Many education thought leaders say, “play is the work of children,” and postulate that it is essential to afford kids with opportunities to build connections with friends.

At Fessenden, the fourth grade campout is one of the most anticipated events of the year. For one night, we pop up tents on our 41-acre campus and engage in team-building activities, go for a swim before sunset, and roast marshmallows by the campfire. We do this in the beginning of the year to establish a class identity and to foster friendships and bonds that will carry on beyond a student’s time at Fessenden. We also build regular time into our schedules for recess and outdoor play.

3. Reap the Benefits of Project-Based Learning

Fessenden Innovation Coach Lauren Maiurano champions the benefits of project-based learning (PBL). During her time as a fourth grade teacher, she designed a number of PBL units that fostered cross-divisional collaboration. She was most impressed with the depth and breadth of learning that transpired. In one project, she challenged her students to design a new historical monument for the Museum of Fine Arts and explains that, in a single project, boys learned so much more beyond the historical nature of the mission.

Lauren explains, “They learned how to revise their work, how to go back and do something again to make it better; they developed an understanding of how to dissect nonfiction text; they learned how to collaborate with each other, with older boys, and with faculty members; and at the end of the project, they fine tuned their public speaking and presentation skills.”

The benefits of project-based learning shouldn’t be limited to middle or upper school students. This type of learning at a young age makes learning exciting, real, and impactful.

With the increased physical and intellectual growth that occurs in the fourth grade, it is important to ensure that your child’s needs are being met. This year prepares children for their next academic challenges by building a foundation for key concepts that will emerge in middle school and beyond.

What are some ways you or your school fosters a love of learning in your child? Tell us in the comments section below.

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