Sunday, February 25, 2007

4th grade slump?

According to this article from Newsweek, the critical year in elementary school is 4th grade. In the earlier years the technical aspects of learning are emphasized and school is usually entertaining. But as children become more mature the real work begins and they gradually lose interest. Learning and reading for pleasure can easily be choked out of a child's life by over-indulgence of sports, TV, computer games, and hanging out with peers. We must balance fun in our children's lives with the long-term goals of wisdom, knowledge, and perserverence.
Another aspect is parental exhaustion. Children these days have been pushed to get ahead since toddlerhood and when they can finally take on some responsibility for their own learning the parents feel they can take a much-needed break. However, this time frame is critical for learning content, analyzing material, and becoming creative thinkers.
"For a lot of kids, fourth grade is a turning point. According to the National Assessment of Education Progress, known as the Nation's Report Card, American kids' reading scores are improving in the early years of elementary school. After fourth grade, test scores are flat. "While there's no question schools are doing better with young children," says Timothy Shanahan, president of the International Reading Association, "kids just don't continue to make the same gains." Kids read less as they get older, too. In a 2006 survey by Scholastic Inc., 40 percent of kids between the ages of 5 and 8 read every day. At fourth grade, though, that rate declined to 29 percent."

Now, we haven't begun 4th grade yet (we will in 6 months), but I can see how critical it is that 9 year olds find books that interest them and expose them to a wide variety of subjects to better understand the world around them. Will loves anything mechanical and engineering related and I encourage that with suggesting gifts such as Snap Circuits and Physics Workshop, and bringing home umpteen books that explain how things are made. I can also see that Mary has been entranced by all things equine and is currently speed reading through the "Pony Pals" series designed exclusively for the 6-9 year old "horse-crazy" girl market. My job is to continue to promote reading and keep them excited about learning about all sorts of things. My other job is to not burn them out with testing. Luckily this is not difficult since they are not in the public school system and we only test them for 3 days each spring, using the CAT survey test.
"Testing may be contributing to the slump in subtle, curricular ways. At every level of schooling, says Jeffrey Wilhelm, a reading expert from Boise State University, "kids need to use a wide range of reading materials—nonfiction and expository writing—and lots of vocabulary words." But in an effort to "teach to the test," many schools are replacing social studies and science with reading instruction in the early years, and that hurts kids. Without this critical base, many kids aren't equipped to do the abstract thinking and learning required of them as they move on."
I also think it is important to continue to read aloud to older children since this allows them to be exposed to more advanced books and makes reading more respected as it becomes a family activity. Reading aloud helps keep reading entertaining because adults can use speech in creative ways. It is important to find books that are engaging, luckily this is not difficult.
Currently we are reading The BFG (link in sidebar), an entertaining tale about a young orphan girl kidnapped by a giant who refuses to eat people like all the other inhabitants of Giant Country. His speech is gramatically incorrect since he only uses present tense and mixes up many nouns and verbs. My children, who have been accused of being the "grammer police"("That's not right! It 'is my birthday', not were!") to each other, love to hear me read sentences such as, "You is a human bean and human beans is like strawbunkles and cream to those giants... I is a dream-blowing giant. When all the other giants is galloping off every what way and which to swallop human beans, I is scuddling away to other places to blow dreams into the bedrooms of sleeping children. Nice dreams. Lovely golden dreams. Dreams that is giving the dreamers a happy time."
Keep your 9 and 10 years olds reading for content and fun, read aloud to them each day, don't over-emphasize standardized tests, fill your home with books and you will likely have children who become life-long readers.


scmom said...

Thanks for the book suggestion. I just reserved it for my 4th grader who generally only loves non-fiction.

Dana said...

Interesting thoughts, and good suggestions. I think kids that age are also more attuned to the fact that they aren't supposed to like school, but there are other issues of their developing identities which are taking on increasing importance.

I was weird...I loved school. My whole life, despite some weird teachers here and there. And yet I homeschool.