The Insider's Guide to School

You Know You Have a Fourth Grader When ...

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Avery Powell

By Catherine Newman, mom of a fifth-grader and an eighth-grader; Amherst, Massachusetts

She attempts the recorder.
All hail the beginner woodwind! Just be sure to put in your earplugs and apologize to your neighbors for that particularly abrasive session of "When the Saints Go Marching In." But give praise that music and the arts haven't been cut entirely from your school's curriculum -- unless they have, and then count your one blessing: recorder-free living.

Her newly discovered ethics one-up yours.
Prepare to be humbled by your fourth-grader's rigorous positions. She might, for example, 1) stop eating meat, 2) scowl when she hears you gossiping about her uncle, and 3) counsel, "Lying really isn't kind" when she overhears you explaining that you'd volunteer for the bake sale if you weren't laid up with a migraine. "I do kind of have a headache," you'll say, and she'll sigh and shake her head before rumpling your hair patronizingly.

There is suddenly much more homework.
A common fourth-grade curriculum objective is to "read and write whole numbers up to 1,000,000,000." That's a lot of zeros! However, your child will not be literally writing out numbers to a billion. Although in the time it takes her to complain about her reams of math homework, she could probably get pretty close.

Her lovey has lots of free time.
Fourth-graders are bursting with busyness. They're learning the scientific method. Playing Chinese checkers. Programming Lego robots. Writing poems about global warming. You're happy for your child with her rich-to-bursting life. You are. You don't wish she were still a chubby-cheeked preschooler, not really -- but then you'll look at the wistful smile of that ratty old stuffed monkey on her bed, and your eyes will fill with tears.

Your old bed sheet goes missing.
First, it must be wrapped and tied to make a classic Greek toga and then, with a little tinkering and the addition of an Egyptian-inspired necklace, an ancient kalasiris. Later, it will be fringed for the Native American unit and then, finally, cut and tied into a "mob cap" (picture a shower cap made for Colonial people -- as if they had showers). With your own flattering mob cap on, you will attend the grade-wide Colonial Village Day.

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