Many students will be assigned their first big project in 4th grade, but don’t assume you’ll be helping your child construct a diorama. These days, your child might be just as likely to create a multimedia presentation.
The 4th grade curriculum is richer and deeper than that of previous grades because teachers spend less time emphasizing the basics of how to read and compute. It’s also a year that teachers integrate subjects more seamlessly. Curriculum content varies by state and is generally available on your state’s department of education website. (Find state-level education data and contact information online from the U.S. Department of Education.) Some local districts and schools may further supplement their state curriculum.
Although the 4th grade content may seem overwhelming, parents shouldn’t be intimidated. “It really is a fun year,” says Amy Matson, a teacher in Portland, Ore., who loves seeing students’ faces when a complex concept finally clicks after years of building a foundation. “It’s a year when we hear students say, ‘Oh, now I get it.’”
The purpose of the big project is to teach your child to work independently over time to achieve a goal. A long-term project requires creativity, critical thinking, and content knowledge. It will often integrate several subjects, such as language arts, math, and social studies or science. Projects may also require computer skills that appear sophisticated but are easily handled by today’s tech-savvy students.
Parents can help their children with projects by being a sounding board for ideas, but you should resist the temptation to get heavily involved. It’s OK if your child’s project does not look as polished as some of the other students’ work; the learning experience is what’s important. Still, some kids will need their parents’ help to break the larger project tasks into manageable parts and to gather supplies.
“A project need not be expensive,” Matson says. “Encouraging students to be creative with resources found easily and cheaply in the community will help them get more out of the experience.”
Written Skills, Oral Presentations
In language arts, students will read more difficult books and be expected to identify key elements of plot, setting, and character development. They’ll be expected to do more independent reading and research and to be able to answer more challenging comprehension questions that require inference.
Written skills will involve longer sentences, more sophisticated vocabulary, and greater attention to spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Many children still have sloppy handwriting at this age, and teachers may set higher expectations for students to work on writing legibly. Teachers may also place heavier emphasis on the thoughts expressed in writing—which means a nice, neat paper won’t be enough to get a good grade. The student will need to demonstrate knowledge of the subject matter and a logical thought process.
Fourth-graders may be assigned more oral presentations than in the past. This is another area where parents can help. It’s normal to feel nervous and uncomfortable speaking in front of others; you can serve as a practice audience for your child.
Students may be introduced to strategies in note-taking and other study skills that will serve them well in the future. Help by suggesting studying strategies or by quizzing your child questions on the night before a big test, for instance.
More Advanced Math Concepts
In math class, students will see more long division as well as multiplication of two- and three-digit numbers. Students will work more with decimals and fractions. They’ll calculate averages and dabble in geometry. At this age, many teachers will haves students start working with calculators, taking the emphasis off rote computation and instead focusing on broader math principles.
It’s important that your child doesn’t fall behind because every lesson in the curriculum builds on the previous one. If your child starts to get lost, work with the teacher immediately to get your child caught up.
Social Studies and U.S. Government
Topics of study vary widely by state and district, but expect your child to spend more time on social studies in 4th grade than in previous years. It’s common to integrate social studies and history with language arts.
In many states, the 4th grade curriculum is heavy on U.S. government, with students learning about the three branches. They may also study U.S. and state geography as well as state history. You can help your child by encouraging a love of history and discussing current events at home.
Science Makes Connections
Your child’s science education, like social studies, will probably get more attention this year than in years past. It’s important that parents present a positive attitude about science, says Jordan Rose, who helps science teachers develop curricula through Emory University’s Center for Science Education.
“One of the biggest mistakes parents can make is to express that science is difficult and challenging and can’t be done,” he says. “Children will push away from science.” Instead, parents should model an enthusiasm and excitement for science even if they didn’t excel in the subject when they were in school.
The 4th grade curriculum will likely emphasize the relevance of science, encouraging students to analyze, predict, and observe. Today’s science is “problem-based and more student-centered,” Rose says, adding that kids at this age want to relate to what they’re learning.
“Real-world issues like the environment help students see the why in science,” he says. “They can learn about the environment and see its connection to something like asthma and understand how it connects to them.”
That focus on “why” is an important part of your child’s 4th grade year in general. Don’t be surprised if your child endlessly asks “Why do I have to know this?”
As a parent, you can help answer such questions with tangible examples of why education is important. Show your child how different subjects play out in everyday life and how your career was shaped by subjects you studied in 4th grade. Helping your child understand why learning matters will propel her toward independence and self-motivation.
For more information, read “4th Grade Social Changes: What To Expect”