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How children learn - 4th, 5th and 6th graders

Updated on February 22, 2012

How children learn

The proverbial fourth grade slump has hit many a child and my son was not exempt from it. I was recently asked for some direction in this regard by a concerned parent. Poor learning skills is what I thought was the issue, but my research proved otherwise. This is what I learned and decided to share it with those facing similar problems. My son is a bright lad, but when he entered the fourth grade we noticed that he was not doing as well as before, his grades were falling, he went from a A+ to A and he was getting himself into trouble. The problem was not so evident, but being very academically oriented I constantly monitored his progress. Meeting with his teachers did not help as he is a favourite and they had nothing to tell me that I did not know. Since the slide in the fourth grade was nothing to worry about, I just let myself be at peace, still guiding him around with his work. He did fall to a B once this year in the fifth grade, but what troubled me most was that fact that his teachers were now complaining. His behaviour at school was not exemplary as it had been all these years. My worries led me do a lot of research and work in this area and I hope the results of this research helps parents who face similar issues with their children.

How children learn - sofspics
How children learn - sofspics

How to help children in the 4th, 5th and 6th grades learn

The fourth grade slump as it is called in the educational circles has many theories to it. This could happen any time between the second and the fifth grade. My research and work with teachers and my child threw up a few vital issues that need to be understood.

Firstly, there is a change in the academic progress of the child. Children at this age are hooked on to TV shows and gadgets that take away much of their time and attention, impairing their concentration. The fact that ten year olds have blackberries don’t help much. Teachers often have to resort to confiscating cellphones from children whom they find texting in class. Attention deficit is a major problem among fourth, fifth and sixth graders. It is not that they cannot focus on what is done in class, but they are more attracted to other things that grab and keep their attention. I believe ten years, or even twenty years ago, we as children never heard so much about ADD or attention deficit disorder. Back then children had nothing much to distract them than their own peers and other class activities. Many kids today do not have attention deficit disorder, but they are plagued by distractions. Their attention span or ability to concentrate is still the same but is diverted to many activities at the same time. Children today listen to music, talk on phones, chat with peers on social networking sites as they do their home work.

The second important observation that I would like to make is that 4th or 5th graders find themselves switching gears from learning to read to reading texts with a heavy information or content. Now the focus is on reading to learn subjects. There seems to be a sudden change in the way a child has been learning, and the child is often unprepared for the sudden acceleration in the pace and content of learning that he/she is used to, at the lower grades. Adjustment to change always takes time as it happens at a slower pace and children need extra help to settle into a comfortable pace in their method of learning.

The problems fourth, fifth and sixth graders face

Some children are better at grasping concepts than others. Having to read, comprehend, infer and apply the concepts learned may be a huge shift in the way learning has occurred in their younger days. Classroom participation is vital to effective learning. Engaging the child in classroom activities grabs the child’s attention and keeps the child actively participating in learning. Children who are passive and not participating withdraw into their own imaginative world shutting off learning. It has been found that when children are not totally engaged in what they are doing they tend to amuse themselves by playing, doodling, distracting themselves and others, in the process getting into trouble with teachers and administrators. If such children are not given the right kind of attention, it could not only make them passive, withdrawn but also produce bored children with behavioural issues. This resultant decline of interest in the subjects and slow disengagement from the classroom activities could lead to a slump in academic progress and it could well continue into adulthood for many.

Teaching only for the purpose of scoring high grades is absolutely futile. In the Asian curriculum children are forced to learn an overwhelming amount of information that they neither understand nor make sense of, hence rote learning is the most preferred mechanism to tide over the problem. This is not learning in the real sense of the word.

Excessive testing has been often reported to be the cause of this slump. Many educational institutions have remedied this but here where I live it is still a problem. Tests stretch for two full weeks taxing the child mentally, emotionally and physically to a certain extent.

Poor cognitive skills could also be due to poor understanding or poor vocabulary. This has to do with the pace of learning I had mentioned earlier. From learning easy words and simple vocabulary the pace of learning rapidly moves towards concepts and terminology. The comprehension of a child is challenged to the utmost. Children need to be acquainted to such a change in a well paced manner. In the Asian curriculum this never happens as teachers are faced with the daunting task of rushing through a vast syllabus to ‘cover the portions’ as they say here. It then falls upon the parents to bridge the gap. I for one think that parents have to be constantly involved in their wards learning/schooling. There very fact that you are associated with what is happening and are ready to help gives your child a high level of confidence.

Another important reason that could keep children form developing interest in reading and developing their cognitive skills is the absence of encouragement to read books on a wider range of topics or just the plain unavailability of books for the children to develop an interest in. Often children stick to particular types of books and feel comfortable with them. Encouraging children to read newspapers, instruction manuals, etc could not only increase their vocabulary but also help them think laterally and absorb a lot more than what they are taught to.

Having outlined the reason for the slump in academics I hope to follow this up with another article that helps parents handle this problem effectively. I appreciate your interest in staying with me to the end.


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    • sofs profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from From the land of wonders

      DrAndrea, Thanks for the comment, what you say is likely to be true, but research suggests that the problem becomes noticeable in the fourth grade and progresses if no action is taken. I appreciate your stopping by to add your views. Have a lovely day.

    • DrAndrea profile image


      6 years ago

      I think you have made interesting connections. In my experience, 3rd grade is the first of the "tough" school years, especially with boys. In 3rd grade, many new concepts are introduced for the first time, and it can be very overwhelming for some kids. There are many students who are retained for the first time in 3rd grade. I also agree that 6th grade is a trying year for many kids as well.

      Putting the information here, is a great start to make parents aware of the "slumps". Thank you for sharing.

    • sofs profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from From the land of wonders

      Jpmc, thanks for endorsing the views on this hub.. A good curriculum and parental support are invaluable. Your daughter is surely going be be an excellent student:). Have a wonderful day. God bless.

    • sofs profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from From the land of wonders

      Prasetio, Thank you for that comment. To receive a comment like that from a teacher is wonderful. The learning is mutual... I am constantly learning from your hubs too. I greatly appreciate and cherish your comment. Have a wonderful day. God Bless.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 

      6 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Students at these gradel levels are facing a huge shift in almost everything - physiologically, emotionally, cognitively. It's like an overload of changes. Add to this the expectations of the schools, parents and now, peers. Although cognitivists point out the progression of how studetns process information there other other important factors to consider.

      This is where a good curriculum matters. Moreover, parental and family support is greatly required. Likewise, starting early when it comes to study habits is important.

      As early as now, I'm exposing my 9-month old daughter to books, and other educational materals. It's nice that she is enjoying them.

    • prasetio30 profile image


      6 years ago from malang-indonesia

      As a teacher, I must admit to you that I learn many things from this hub. Thanks for open my minds. As parents we should never give up to give them guidance. So, they feel comfortable to learn. Thank you very much. Good job and rated up!


    • sofs profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from From the land of wonders

      Ruby, Thank you for taking the interest to read it even though it does not affect you much. Looking back it was around the same time my older son had problems at school but thankfully I seemed to have handled this very well at that time. Have a lovely day. God bless !

    • sofs profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from From the land of wonders

      Teaches, It is wonderful that you brought up this issue of this age group being pre-teens needing more physical activity. Thanks for sharing it with others who may face such issues.. understanding the problem is half the problem solved. Have a wonderful day. God Bless.

    • sofs profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from From the land of wonders

      Prasanna, Thanks for the visit. It is true our system does need a major revision, and our teachers may need some more help. With the student teacher ratios being so pathetic.. the system could do well with some rethink. Have a lovely day. God Bless!

    • prasonline profile image

      Prasanna Marlin 

      6 years ago from Sri lanka

      Education is very important. But Our educations system needs a major revision, I learned a couple of things here. Great Hub. Good instructions.

    • sofs profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from From the land of wonders

      Hypenbird, Thanks for the read and the comment. It does not necessarily have to become hard for all kids. It is a matter of being able to keep their focus right. My son is a great reader too, but the fact that he is not actively engaged in class is what is getting him into trouble. I just put a plan into place and we are working on this very sincerely. I believe it will yield good results as this is a plan tailor made for him. I hope all goes well with your lad. Best wishes to both of you. Have a lovely day! God Bless!

    • sofs profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from From the land of wonders

      Melis Ann, you are right about the pressure on the child and the methods the child has to adopt to cope. I believe that a little more concern and reaching out on the part of teachers could help the child in the long run. Memorizing isn't just learning, being able to understand concepts and put them to practice is what real learning is about, learning that the child could use all through life. The use of Video, demos, experiments and hands on learning is much more effective. I can tell you this, most Asian parents hardly have a life.. they are learning all the subjects allover again with their kids. It does become too heavy a load to carry at times. Thank you for reading and leaving this realistic comment. I appreciate this very much. Have a wonderful day. God Bless!

    • sofs profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from From the land of wonders

      Millionare Tips, you are spot on with your observation. Taking a balanced approach would be ideal, which means parents have to understand that there is a lot more going on in the child's life. In the Asian context the kind of pressure that a child faces is unthinkable. Education is everything here.. and completion often pushes children to the brink. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, I appreciate this very much. Have a lovely day. God Bless.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      6 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Great info. Sophie. I don't have a child in this age group. I remember when my son was in the lower grades, there was a new challenge each year..Thank you for sharing...

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      I will have to pass this on to parents I know who have children in these grades. This is great information and it will help them understand how children this age learn. These students are pre-teen and their bodies are changing and getting ready to "morph" into the teen scene. This means they need some extra physical activity along with more challenging, interactive classwork. Great write on this topic. Voted up!

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 

      6 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      Thanks for the tips. I have a third grader(boy) and didn't know about the fourth grade slump. He is a great reader and is in the Intellectually and Academically Gifted Program. He already has trouble staying focused and on task. Seems he likes to plan inventions in his mind. Hopefully next year will be easier instead of harder.

    • Melis Ann profile image

      Melis Ann 

      6 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

      Great idea to pull this information to the forefront. There are so many parents with children struggling in school and what is right for one child may not be right for another. The testing is completely out of control in our scool as it sounds like in your district as well. My son spends several days breaking out the studying for one test, but he has 1 or 2 per week, on top of other homework. The retention in class is a major factor and we find ourselves reteaching the material and helping him find new ways to memorize and learn. He can do it, but it takes a special effort. When there are other chilren to take care of and giving them time for physical activity there just isn't enough time in a day. Our educations system needs a major revision, something drastic to make learning more efficient. For now, all us parents can do is creatively help our kids as best we can. Thanks and look forward to your follow-up.

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 

      6 years ago from USA

      Education is very important and it is frustrating when you see your child's grades drop. You've listed a great list of reasons why the slump occurs. It is important to show balance, and not pressure the child when he or she struggles. Some concepts are difficult to grasp, and we need to encourage them to keep trying new things, and not expect perfection. Voted up.


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