I started this school year a bit worried and anxious about our 9.5 year old. She had a good summer, despite a major life event that could have derailed anyone’s happiness (her beloved Thai sister returned home across the world after 11 wonderful months with us). But Z was very stressed about starting 4th grade, and that made me nervous in turn.
She kept saying that she didn’t feel ready to be a 4th grader – that 4th graders are “big kids” and she just didn’t feel like that yet. She also had qualms about whether she could handle it academically, and whether she was up for all the homework she was sure would come. Somehow in third grade, she got the idea in her head that she might not make it in 4th grade. Ludicrous!
I wasn’t sure how to reassure her. I remember loving my own experience in 4th grade, due in large part to an amazing teacher. It felt like a magical age to me – and I told her that.
Fourth grade feels like such a cusp of a year. Almost-10 year olds still want to like their little kid favorite things to do, see and eat – but they also don’t want to anymore because they so badly want to be big kids. It’s an awkward time. Or maybe the start of the awkward time.
Now, everything is filtered through the lens in their mind of “would a big kid say/feel/want to do that” and if the answer is a perceived no, they won’t want to do it. It makes me sad in a way – I don’t want her to censor herself. I try to show her every day that one can be “big” or grownup, and still act like a little kid sometimes and have fun. That literally describes me to a T, in fact.
But sometimes I can catch Z at a moment when the “filter” is off and then she’ll still enjoy some of the “little kid” things we’ve always loved to do together. Like tea parties, dressing up the dogs or even playing with American Girl dolls. I find these times happen most often at the start or end of a day.
Anyway, I was so worried about HER being worried about 4th grade. Even into the first full week of school, I was anxious. But, I’m happy to report that now, two months into 4th grade, it’s a big hit. She comes home almost giddy every night to show me what she’s learned. It’s like her little mind is EXPLODING! It’s so exciting and fun to see.
She’s obsessed with Scratch, a coding site they introduced in the classroom. She says her teachers make it fun to learn this year – and she is loving every bit of it. So, now that we’re right in the thick of it, here are my four reasons why 4th grade is amazing.
1. Reading is everything. My three wishes for Zoe, when I found out we were having a girl, were for her to be kind, sporty (unlike me) and a reader.
She has always had a kind heart for both people and animals. She has tried many sports, loves gym class and is fearless when playing against either boys or girls – so she’s definitely sporty.
And, perhaps best of all, this year in 4th grade, she became a serious pleasure reader. My heart wants to explode with happiness. We read together all the time now. In fact, she’s reading right now and just said “Daddy! Read this book! We’ll make a reader out of you yet!”
2. Figuring out friendships. Z is starting to realize that not all friendships are equal, and that it’s important to seek out friends who are kind and who make her feel good. There’s a fair amount of girl drama that starts in 4th grade or earlier, and now is the time to begin learning how to deal with it.
She’s also found cool ways to deepen friendships – like starting her own 4th grade book club, inspired in part by how much I enjoyed participating in a parents book club at her school. We read Girls Without Limits by ROX founder Dr. Lisa Hinkelman, and it was both eye-opening and incredibly useful for parents of daughters. (Watch for a blog post from me soon about the book!)
3. Almost a “grown up kid” – but still willing to snuggle. I’ve found 4th grade has brought on so much more independence – like taking on more chores, doing homework on her own, making and checking off her own to do lists and packing her own backpack. She hardly needs any reminders anymore, and is actually far more likely to need to remind ME to do something!
She told me not too long ago, “Mommy, I really only need you to drive me around. I can do everything else.” She makes incredible snacks and meals for us, even treating us to “dates” where she’s a server and it’s like we’re at a restaurant. (See, she will still do some little kid things like pretend play – and we love it!)
BUT… she’s also still willing to snuggle. Thank heaven for weekend mornings with our whole family snuggled up all warm in bed while the bedroom is chilly and the weather is crisp and cool outside. There’s truly nothing better! I know the time is coming when she won’t want to pile in Mom and Dad’s bed for a cuddle pile with us and the dogs, and that will make me so sad. We’re enjoying it while we can.
I’m doing my best to let her know that it’s ALL okay, and it’s all normal. Wanting to spend time with us and be close? Normal. Wanting to be more independent, do more things on her own and spend time in her own room doing her own things (like writing in her journal)? Totally normal.
4. Free pass to all our country’s amazing National Parks! Here’s something super cool about being a 4th grader that you may not know: every 4th grader in America is eligible for a free pass to all Federal parks, lands and waters. This wonderful, Obama-era program, Every Kid Outdoors, is an amazing opportunity and we plan to put it to good use this year. Just visit the Every Kid Outdoors site, register your 4th grader and print out the paper pass. Then, you can turn it in to get an actual laminated plastic pass at the first national park you visit!
This is what I mean by 4th grade being such a magical age and time in a child’s life. They are right on the edge of something more – something bigger. And they’re eager to get there, even straining to grow and develop and learn more and be more mature at times. But they’re also still pretty comfortable just being kids – and part of them wants to stay where it feels safe, cared for and cherished.
I feel like as parents, we’re right there with our kids on that same edge – and it’s our job to love them hard, whichever way they happen to be teetering on a particular day.
What has been your experience with 4th graders – do you see this same dichotomy at play? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below or over on Facebook.