4th Grade: Common Benchmarks and Sticky Spots

Remember how I talked about the pendulum effect in an earlier part of this series? The pendulum is swinging once again and this time it reveals a calmer and more confident kiddo.

Each age is special for both teachers and parents. A general knowledge of developmental stages can support your understanding of your child at home and at school. These stages change continuously as children grow and are relatively universal, meaning that most children go through these common experiences. Most children go through similar stages which dictate to how they relate with adults and peers and approach the world around them. These general characteristics are associated with a given age or grade level however it is totally normal for children to arrive at one stage a little earlier or a little later than their peers. Every child, even siblings and twins, develops at their own rate.  It is also common that a child might mature quickly in one area and more slowly in another. This information is simply one tool to help you appreciate the growth of your child and support their development. The following information is based on research from the Northeast Foundation for Children, the Center for Responsive Schools,  and my own experiences as an educator and school leader.

Generally Speaking:

During fourth grade the stickiness associated with third grade subsides and you will notice your child becoming more confident, calm, and happy as the year progresses. At this stage children tend to have really positive relationships with their teachers, peers, siblings, and parents. This is an important time to build connection and trust ahead of middle school and the pre-teen years.

Social Development: Age 9

  • In the beginning of the year it is normal for your nine-year-old to feel extremely competitive and be highly invested in establishing cliques. This subsides throughout the year.
  • Nines tend to be extremely critical of themselves and others, including adults.  They tend to complain often and rarely share compliments. Know this will change throughout the year and take time to model kindness.
  • This stage often comes with a lot of negative talk including ” I hate,” “I can’t, ” and “It’s boring.”
  • Nines enjoy group work but it comes with a lot of arguing and conflict in the beginning of the year. As students become more secure in their own abilities throughout  the year, group work will evolve into a more enjoyable and low-key experience.
  • At this stage, kids enjoy edgy humor and exaggerated jokes.
  • Nines need a lot from adults in lightening the mood. The best practices for parents and teachers at this stage is patience, lots of encouragement, and lighthearted humor to reduce anxiety.

Physical Development: Age 9

  • Nines have great coordination and love to roughhouse. The book Opposite of Worry has great advice about using physical (and safe) play as a way to connect and reduce anxiety.
  • At this stage kids complain about aches and pains a lot and get very restless if in one position for too long.
  • Look for signs of stress bubbling below the surface. Twisting of hair or biting nails may be a sign of concealed anxiousness. This likely popped up during third grade but keep your eyes peeled as kids develop at all different rates.

Cognitive Development: Age 9

  • Nines work hard and complete detailed work but may change interests quickly.
  • As they learn more and more about the world, anxiety is often felt about world events, school, parents, friends, and daily activities.
  • At this stage, your kiddo will be less imaginative and care about scientific and factual explanations. Evidence and truthfulness are important to nines.
  • Abstract concepts and areas of ambiguity are hard for nines to understand. Long periods of time, vast areas of space, and large quantities are difficult to comprehend and spark many questions.
  • This is a great time for exposure to social justice issues as nines learn more about the word.
  • This age brings about a lot of interest in special clubs (art, chess, dance, sports, etc.) and developing a “thing” is important to nines.


Social Development: Age 10

  • If you have not done so already, this is a great time to join a club or team outside of school. Kids are excited to build new social connections and become involved in special interest groups.
  • Volunteering and mentoring become very appealing to tens. Give your child lots of exposure to community service and see if you can make this a part of your family practice.
  • Both genders tend to get along well at the age of ten and working together happens easily.
  • Tens seem to have a bit of relationship amnesia- they are quick to anger and quick to forgive. They may also be quick to praise but may forget about another’s act of kindness quickly.
  • At this stage, children have a healthy balance of competition and cooperation.
  • Tens still enjoy adult interaction and support.
  • This is a great time to develop trust with your child. Tens are good listeners but also eager to converse and explain their perspective.

Physical Development: Age 10

  • The muscles of a ten-year-old are developing quickly and big movements become easier and more powerful. This is a great time for sports and outdoor play! Some schools eliminate recess at this age (BIG MISTAKE); if this is the case for your child, be sure to reserve time after school for gross-motor activities like active free play and  sports including dance and gymnastics.
  • Tens tend to eat frequently and need breaks to care for their growing bodies.
  • Precise fine motor movements are well suited for students at this stage. Using precision tools like rulers, compasses, and protractors are appropriate.

Cognitive Development: Age 10

  • Tens tend to have a great memory. Memorizing facts and information is an easy task for this stage.
  • Kids at this stage also love working with data. Collecting, organizing, and analyzing data are enjoyable activities.
  • At this stage, students are open and invested in learning conflict-resolution strategies.
  • You will notice that your child’s stamina for sustained academic work increases greatly. Your child will likely develop a great sense of pride in their work and show motivation for accomplishing goals.
  • Tens, much like nines, still have a great interest in logic and rules. This is a great time to learn about organizational structures and principles.

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