by Caitlin Hurtgen, 4th Grade Teacher
Students at The Country School are like students all over the world. They are complex beings with clear needs and wants. One important benefit students get at TCS – as opposed to many other schools in the area – is a caring faculty who know about appropriate expectations and developmental readiness. Chip Woods’ Yardsticks is a widely acclaimed and respected book about developing children. Teachers and parents have been using this guide for years to ensure that they understand their students and children. Often when I look back at the book to gain some insight into the needs of my students I find myself saying, “Oh! I forgot that was an expectation for this age group!” When I hand a Yardsticks pamphlet to parents of my students they often say, “Wow! So they’re supposed to be doing that? I’m glad it’s developmentally appropriate for my child to be...”
As a teacher of nine and ten year olds it is important for me to understand what these students need physically, cognitively, and emotionally so that I keep my teaching and my expectations appropriate for the students in my classroom.
According to Mr. Woods, nine year olds are more physically coordinated. They tire easily, but they like to push physical limits. They can be restless, so I can’t expect them to sit still all day. It is also normal for them to report their aches and pains. This makes it important for me to acknowledge their pains, but encourage them to push through them and carry on with normal activities.
Ten-year-olds, especially girls, start to display signs of puberty. This often means they start talking about matchmaking, and it’s partially my job to tell them they’re too young to be worrying about that while acknowledging their feelings and interests. Ten-year-olds also need lots of outdoor play and physical challenges paired with snack and rest periods. The Country School is better about providing this to students than any other school with which I’m familiar. Our nine and 10 year olds have recess twice a day and lots of time to play and socialize together both inside the classroom and outdoors. We encourage our students to play in the woods and on the fields. They also enjoy PE for different precision tasks that involve movement and activity in sports and movement.
In terms of what should be expected in the classroom, nine- and ten-year-olds like to work hard and are able to pay attention, but they may also jump between interests. Cognitively they want factual explanations. They ask lots of “what if” questions. They enjoy scientific exploration but are still developing their understanding of abstract concepts such as large numbers. They are verbal; love language and word play. They are industrious and curious about the world, and they worry about global issues. They are good at memorizing things, and they like rules and logic. They like to do choral readings, recite poetry, and they are able to read and think for longer periods of time. Our 4th Graders have lots of opportunities to practice these skills in the classrooms as they write and recite poetry, learn to use figurative language, employ problem solving techniques, and study United States history.
Emotionally, nine- and ten-year-olds are competitive. They’ll often form cliques or groups based on social interests. They can be critical of others and need encouragement to persevere. They like working with a partner better than in groups because they argue when there are too many perspectives. They are also quick to forgive. They take pride in their schoolwork, and they begin to develop a more mature sense of right and wrong.
Children are complex beings. As adults we often think we can just tell students what the right things to do are, but children often need to experience failure and trial and error in order to learn from experience. Students in the fourth grade at TCS are amazing and resilient humans who are learning and playing all the time. Their experiences in the classroom and on the playground are engaging and exciting as they develop problem solving skills and social awareness. Any time you stop by our classrooms you will see engaged learners working together. I feel so grateful to get to work with this age group at this amazing school that cares deeply about children on Opening Hill Road in Madison.
* developmental expectations referred to above come from: https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Yardsticks-for-Elementary-School.pdf