Learning Guide: Fifth Grade
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Learning Guide: Fifth Grade

Their schoolwork becomes more challenging, but these developing preteens spend less time worrying.

Portrait of a Fifth Grader

Look at your fifth-grade "baby" and you may no longer see a child. For many girls, fifth grade previews the onset of puberty. Boys are not there yet, however, and girls may be a lot taller than the boys. For boys and girls alike, fifth grade often heralds the first flicker of interest in the opposite sex, although they both still want one close same-sex friend. Fifth graders are very much like six- and seven-year-olds in wanting to please. They constantly ask the teacher, "Is this what you want? Is this what you said?" They are willing to help others and not as critical as they will become. Happily, they also seem to spend less time worrying than they did last year. Change is in the air, however: for many children, this is the last year in elementary school.

What your child will learn

Despite a demanding academic calendar that includes detailed work with fractions and serious novels, social issues will dominate the year for most students. Teachers spend a lot of time developing self-worth, with a great deal of emphasis on the subject of friends -- especially on how to pick good ones. Formal drug-awareness programs start this year, with role-playing of situations in which peer pressure is most intense. Many schools also teach children about puberty, sometimes by bringing in a medical expert; some separate the sexes for these classes, while others do not. Teachers report that some fifth graders act silly and giggle through the talks. Other students store the brochures and can't wait to look at them when they're alone at home. Kids this age love to perform on stage and get especially involved in extracurricular team sports. Many teachers focus on building independence to get students ready for the middle school or junior-high years. Reading skills taught in fifth grade are an extension of those learned in previous years, but are applied to more complex works.

In the Classroom

Teachers will show students how to...

  • Pull ideas together; investigate complex questions; develop techniques for organizing a written report or story, such as outline, list, note cards; learn debating skills.
  • Write stories with a fully developed beginning, middle and end; create poetry; write reports on assigned topics.
  • Break down numbers into factors; perform long division comfortably; multiply and divide decimals; add and subtract fractions with unlike denominators.
  • Convert, compare, and compute with common units of measure; compare and contrast angles in relation to right angles.
  • Understand that nations are interdependent and make alliances to promote common interests; discuss complexities of families; learn concepts of latitude and longitude on globes and maps.
  • Learn to use a microscope; observe phenomena associated with electricity, light, and sound.

7 Ways You Can Help

  1. Continue to read to your child, even if only for 10 to 15 minutes a night. You don't have to read great literature; it could be cartoons or comic books you both enjoy, or the sports pages from the newspaper. Reading together helps foster communication.
  2. Talk about your values to your child while giving her room and opportunity to explain her opinions to you.
  3. Keep track of who your child's friends are. If you do not approve, note your feelings gently.
  4. Keep a close eye on the videos going into your VCR and that of your child's friends; too many kids are watching adult-directed films at home, without supervision.
  5. Back off from helping your child with homework, especially math, unless you really know the material she's studying. It's more useful to have her ask her teacher for help in these areas.
  6. When shopping, have her look for value, comparing size of units with price for the best buy.
  7. If finding topics for dinner conversation seems difficult, take turns with your child as quiz leaders. She can find answers to questions in newspapers, on the Internet, in dictionaries, almanacs and encyclopedias -- all tools of the fifth-grade student.

What the Experts Say

"Books that are challenging and high interest to fifth graders include the Golden Compass series, Sherlock Holmes mysteries, the Harry Potter series and The Hobbit. They are ideal for parent and child to read together." Nancy Roser, professor of language and literacy, University of Texas

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