As children turn nine, they begin to see the world differently. Before this time, children experience little separation between themselves and their environment. They were one with the world. Now they suddenly feel they are at the edge of the world, looking in wondering, “Where is my place?” Some call this the turning point of childhood.
Life takes on quite a different quality, as an experience arises of self as something independent of everything else. The child may suddenly feel very insecure; their relationship with nature, eternity, others, and themselves must be reestablished. As a new inner life develops, they gradually begin to realize their individuality. Parents may notice their children becoming more critical and beginning to question everything. Feelings of loneliness, discomfort, and apprehension are common.
We find the reflection of the children’s inner experiences in the stories of the Old Testament. Adam and Eve had to leave the Garden of Eden, and third-grade students have a strong realization that they must one day leave the family home and make their way in the world.
As children explore the stories of firm authority and rebellion, of breaking from the community and finding one’s way back, they find ways to move through the developmental challenges of nine and into a new harmony with themselves and their environment. They have left behind the “paradise” of early childhood, and now they can choose to do what is moral or not, thereby attaining virtue and progress as human beings. While closely paralleling the child’s own experiences, these stories also introduce history.
For the third-grader, the remedy for being “cast out of Eden” is experiencing the world as a good place to be. Through the activities of gardening, cooking, building shelters, and making clothing, they learn that they can use what is around them to thrive.
They meet the world around them and discover they have the power to transform it. There are skills they must learn. They learn to measure, weigh, use tools, plant and harvest crops, follow the seasons, and keep time.
They gain comfort, confidence, and joy with each skill learned. The Earth is their home, and it is sound and beautiful.
Children of this age have a strong need to experience providing the necessities of life for themselves. To that end, we offer an immersive study of farming, gardening, food preparation, and shelter building, which becomes the content of their language arts and math lessons. These subjects fulfill a basic need in children of this age to do something, be competent people, and understand how to care for themselves.
They experience the balance of working together and working alone, building a foundation for a lifetime of self-reliance – not just physically but also emotionally.
Fourth-grade students are still in the middle of what we call “the nine-year-old change.” They want to respect adults and be amazed by their world, but their respect and awe must be justified. They become more self-confident as their perception sharpens.
The fourth-grade child is consciously seeking models of competence in teachers, coaches, and others in their expanding social sphere.
They can be highly critical and argumentative; strong opinions about anything and everything, likes and dislikes, are often expressed in class discussions as a new realistic view of the world emerges. Teachers and parents increasingly experience the children as emerging individuals with strong personalities and distinctive gifts, talents, and challenges.
Studying local geography helps the children establish their place on this Earth, as they can now orient themselves in time and space. Learning to make maps of their classroom, school, neighborhood, Sarasota, and Florida, and solidifying the directions of north, south, east, and west, as manifested by the movement of the sun and planets, gives the children a sure way to find themselves in the here and now. This is true in their bodies as well, for by this time, the children should have become quite coordinated in the three aspects of space: forward/back, left/right, up/down.
Understanding their local geography, both physical and cultural, is a way to unite the child to earth, and cultivate a feeling of belonging and purpose.
A journey through nearly 15,000 years of local human history is also offered, as the students are fully ready to orient themselves in time, further enhancing their connections to our local surroundings and the people who came here before them.
In fourth grade, the world – which once exhibited a magical wholeness- begins to break apart. This is the appropriate time to introduce fractions. Through hands-on activities, the children find a world of numbers in between any two whole numbers.
The child’s experience of separation from their surroundings remains painful at times. Out of this difficulty, children begin to form their personalities, consciously choosing those qualities that will make up their own characters and their ways of approaching the world.
The ability to choose consciously is strongly echoed in Norse mythology, which becomes the basis of their language arts study. These traditional tales center on the strength of character, courage, self-sacrifice, and perseverance while revealing hidden motives, character fallibility, and adversarial relationships of all kinds.
Fourth grade is naturally full of conflict within social interactions that seem impossible to solve in the moment, but are resolved in a safe environment, creating mutual respect, understanding, and closer friendships.
A most valuable quote for the fourth-grader is said by Odin, during one of his visits to Earth, as he closely advises his human creations: “Men die, cattle die, you yourself must die one day. There is only one thing that will not die- the name, good or bad, that you have made for yourself.” This truly speaks to the fourth-grader.
At the same time, their newfound independence broadens the child’s mindset and shows a world of endless possibilities. The fourth-grader has an adventurous spirit, is full of curiosity, and is eager to explore new capacities for learning and creativity.