Characteristics of Fourth and Fifth Graders

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Once you get to know the children in your group, you’ll be amazed at how different they are! No two of these image-bearers are alike, that’s for sure. Still, most children in this age group are beginning to establish a sense of identity, of who they are. And some of this identity comes through joining groups of one kind or another.

Being aware of these patterns of development can help you understand and minister to the unique persons God has placed in your care for these few weeks and months. Below are few reminders of the world of fourth and fifth graders.

Intellectual Characteristics

Children at this age

  • are proficient readers, though reading ability varies considerably; are learning how to read and study the Bible, with an emphasis on learning the facts; memorizing is easier now than later.
  • love to gather and classify facts and dig into a subject; have a growing sense of time and space, cause and effect; can deal with timelines and maps; are often interested in historical stories or heroes of the past.
  • are still “concrete thinkers” and are unable to reason with these facts in an adult way—to do logical analysis, to “think about thinking;” it’s easier for them to talk about things than about ideas.
  • tend to have thinking that is anchored in personal experience (“You said it was impossible; well, I know someone who did it”); their thinking also colored by emotion and by a sense of fair play.
  • are identifying their preferences for certain learning styles; you may recognize budding artists or writers or musicians in your group; some children in this age group have a fairly strong sense of what they’re good at and may be somewhat self-conscious when asked to do things they don’t do well.
  • still love to learn by doing—participating in games, dramas, role plays, group projects, art projects, service projects, etc.
  • often have a strong interest in nature, the environment, animals.

Tips for Leaders

  • Continue to be sensitive to children who struggle with reading; ask for volunteers to read aloud or assign shorter/simpler pieces to weaker readers.
  • Read some of the books your kids are reading, watch some of the movies/TV shows they enjoy so you can refer to these for examples and illustrations.
  • Recognize each child’s strengths; structure your sessions so they give each child a chance to do something he or she really enjoys and does well; at the same time, encourage kids to be try activities that may challenge them a bit (music, art, drama, dance, role play); let the group know that you have strengths and weaknesses of your own, and learn to laugh at your own attempts to try something at which one of the children excels. This can help set the stage for accepting everyone’s best efforts.
  • Recognize that while these children can concentrate for longer periods of time and become involved in a topic, they also have a great need for movement. Shift activities frequently or add physical activity to the learning time so kids don’t become antsy.
  • Respect the mental boundaries of this age-group by staying away from theological arguments and analysis but encourage their mental growth by asking why they feel as they do or have a certain opinion, by taking them into the nonliteral world of parables, by moving them into the discussion of ideas as well as things, and by using the anecdotal lives of heroes—including biblical heroes—to teach more abstract concepts such as faithfulness, love, covenant, and so on.
  • Take advantage of nice-weather days and occasionally go outside to work on an activity.

Social Characteristics

Children at this age

  • are developing a sense of individual value and worth; are forming a sense of personal identity that includes statements about what they believe; need a sense of individual value and encouragement for their efforts in work and learning; can be very sensitive to criticism.
  • may place impossible expectations on themselves, tearing up stories they’ve written or pictures they’ve drawn because they don’t think they’re good enough.
  • are spending more and more time with their peers; form clubs or groups with children of their own gender; opinions of friends may be more important to them than opinions of parents; group identity is stronger now than at any other time in childhood.
  • are becoming more responsible and caring to each other and to adults.
  • are developing a communal sense about God’s family, the church; often want to be part of the church or children’s group within the church.
  • are quick to sense when one child is favored or given special privileges; respect a leader who is fair.

Tips for Leaders

  • Encourage and support the children’s efforts in work and in learning; make sure they know that their work is acceptable and you are not looking for “perfection;” (when they become self-critical, it’s hard for them to participate because they feel can’t do anything right).
  • Encourage group work of all sorts; stress cooperation, not competition; avoid formation of cliques by assigning children to small groups.
  • Give children responsibility for working effectively with others in groups and for working independently on some projects; let them know that you trust them.
  • Tell some of the “faith stories” that come out of your local congregation; encourage participation in such church activities as children’s choir, special programs and events; help kids develop a sense of belonging to the community of believers.
  • Work to avoid favoritism.

Spiritual Characteristics

Children at this age

  • are developing a conscience—a personal sense of right and wrong that often expresses itself in judgments of what’s “unfair” or unjust; may be critical of adults who appear to be insincere in their faith.
  • may be able to deal—in a limited way—with moral questions in terms of motives as well as consequences; are beginning to think about questions of ethics and morality in the context of love, loyalty, promises, and so on.
  • may show an increasing concern about people who are hungry, homeless, or poor.
  • are often open to learning about other cultures; becoming more accepting of differences in others.
  • understand why we pray; may make up spontaneous prayers and litanies.
  • are more inclined to look inward than younger children; may ask questions and wonder about making a commitment to Christ.

Tips for Leaders

  • When discussing moral/ethical issues, try getting into areas of motivation/intentions of those involved; give guidance in making ethical decisions and encourage children to recognize the authority of Scripture; examples from life are useful in helping children develop morally.
  • Offer some service projects that children can do as a group.
  • Watch for opportunities to point out the contributions of different cultures to music, worship, prayer, and so on.
  • Watch for questions and statements that indicate an interest in making a commitment; while never forcing commitment, do what you can to help the children explore their faith and grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ; for a few, this may mean providing the necessary guidance to help them take the steps toward a public commitment.
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