Learning Guide: Sixth Grade
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Learning Guide: Sixth Grade

With their bodies changing, these busy students on the cusp of junior high are self-conscious yet still somewhat naive.

Portrait of a Sixth Grader

Public awareness and body awareness -- you'll see dramatic interest in both. Boys and girls may become involved in a school charity project, for instance, and be equally fascinated by why and how their own and their classmates' bodies are changing. Sixth graders are increasingly self-conscious: Boys want to wear deodorant and cologne, and girls want to wear bras even if they aren't ready. In a move toward independence, sixth graders begin to emotionally distance themselves from their parents.

There may be mild interest in the opposite sex reflected in teasing, note passing, handholding, even kissing. These classic interests have a high-tech wrinkle now: The Internet, with chat rooms and Instant Messaging, is where kids increasingly spend their time. In some ways, however, the gap between boys and girls may be at its widest during this year: Girls are not only further along in physical development, but many of them are also more adept at abstract reasoning and other intellectual skills than their male friends.

What your child will learn

This is a transitional year: Your child will be a member of the oldest class or the youngest, depending on whether your school system starts middle school in sixth grade or seventh grade. In either case, in sixth grade academic demands intensify, with homework often assigned in three or four subjects each night. Reading assignments often involve sophisticated fiction and non-fiction. In math, they are being asked to handle more complex computations, including complicated functions with fractions. Like fifth graders, they still love science projects and hands-on experiments. In some school districts, sixth graders take their first formal sex-education course. In others where no such courses are offered, teachers may informally fill in the gaps as questions from students arise. Kids this age can still be very naive. Many teachers report that sixth graders, like many junior high students, are vulnerable to dramatic mood swings. They're high one minute and low the next. Some teachers believe this moodiness is caused by hormonal changes and anxieties about peer rejection.

In the Classroom

Teachers will help students to...

  • Discern the difference between first and third-person points of view in literature; learn to use footnotes and appendices; utilize periodicals, atlases and card catalogs to locate information; recognize literary elements (setting, plot and characterization).
  • Write increasingly complex compositions and stories that illustrate use of adjectives and correct subject-verb agreement.
  • Perform all functions (+, -, x, /) with fractions; change fractions to decimals and decimals to percents; calculate percentages; use formulas to find area and perimeter.
  • Study countries, regions or hemispheres of the world or focus on civic problems unique to an area.
  • Master the use of acid-base indicators; observe cellular composition of, organisms with microscopes.

6 Ways You Can Help

  1. Keep confrontations with your child to a minimum, especially over issues like clothing. Insist that homework and household responsibilities be completed, but allow freedom for self-expression.
  2. Try to arrange a meeting with the teacher in which your child is present, too.
  3. Broaden your child's view of the world. Take him to work with you so he gains first-hand experience of the working world; discuss other occupations.
  4. Let him help manage the grocery budget for a month -- including how much to spend weekly, where to shop for what, and which items to purchase.
  5. For a taste of competitive math, play the stock market at home. Each family member picks one stock and graphs its progress using the previous day's closing price. At the end of a quarter, see whose stock has performed best.
  6. Teach your child how the emergency mechanisms work in your home. He should learn how to shut off the electrical power, turn off the water and how to contact the ambulance squad, police and fire departments. This knowledge will also help if he starts babysitting for younger siblings or neighborhood youngsters.

What the Experts Say

"Moving to middle school is a tough time for many children. They are asked to make new friends, master new subjects, and find it a very confusing time as the hormones start kicking in. At the same time, the parents' role is undergoing change from decision-maker to adviser. In these years, it's easy to drop back from involvement with the school and teachers -- but it's not in the child's best interests. Parents need to maintain regular contact with teachers, counselors and administrators, to understand the culture of the school as well as what they hear from their children." Shirley Igo, President, National PTA, 2001-2002