This week, my fourth grader, coming off a month-long study of Burundi that ended in a poster, report and African feast, wrote and presented a report on Benjamin Franklin, followed the next day by a vocabulary test and his own invention with accompanying poster that he presented more than 100 times in the gym.
They were great, interesting projects. He is learning a lot with a wonderful teacher, but we are both exhausted. The number of times I ran to the grocery store in search of some odd ingredient (red palm oil, chia seeds, goji berries) was enough to send me over the edge. The number of times I had to stop him from playing a game over the last few weeks so he could get his work done put a strain on us both.
I remember a lot from Mrs. Parker’s fourth grade. I do not recall being tired or wishing for Spring Break or looking at my mom with a look that says “can you stop the madness?” I do not recall her ever telling me to come study. She insists that she never had to, that life is different now.
Already? Wasn’t I in fourth grade just yesterday?! Could it change that fast?
I do remember that my friends and I used to sit at a big round table near the sink in the back of the room. Mrs. Parker seemed very old to us, but her hearing was fine, and the more chatty girls were often sent into the hall.
Her age also meant that she didn’t do camping trips. We had gone on one in third grade, so a class parent sponsored one to keep us happy. I cannot remember if I was swarmed by jellyfish off their dock that year or the next. Someone had dumped the leftover cool-aid into the water and I was one of the last to get out.
Capture the flag was my favorite thing to do in gym even though I was the slowest runner in our class. I was sometimes forgotten because I posed no threat, so could sneak up on prison to set my team free. I felt like a hero.
Someone came to talk to us about how Nestle was watering down the formula they were giving new mothers and babies in Africa, so I boycotted one of my favorite candy bars.
I got stuck the summer before on the long, dull chapter about Meg in the middle of Little Women. I wanted to get back to Jo. So I finally finished it that fall. Then we read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh like my fifth grader is doing now.
I remember that the biography shelf was directly across from the door to the library. There were not enough of them, so I read Helen Keller’s fourteen times and Florence Nightingale’s ten before Mrs. Parker said I needed to try fiction. I fell in love with it.
I remember how much we loved to go to Bruce’s Variety to pick out the supplies for any project assigned or not, partly because we would always run into a friend doing the same. Our moms would talk in the cramped, dusty aisles while we found everything from ribbons and buttons to construction paper and glue.
I remember finally getting our first homework assignment. We were supposed to write a story. I was so excited that I wrote ten pages and illustrated it.
I had lots of playdates because we didn’t have much to do after school. Yet each one gave me butterflies because I knew those times made friendships stronger.
I do not remember my mom reminding me to read. I do not remember us studying for a weekly vocabulary test over breakfast or racing out the door to get to an after-school sport.
My mom was always there. It was just that life was less ramped up by fourth grade so that when we did get an assignment, we couldn’t wait to get started. Homework was still a novelty that made us feel important and mature. And we didn’t have to wait for the weekend to play outside until it got too cold or too dark.
We were ready for the work my kids are doing now, so maybe we should have been given more. But I wasn’t counting the days until Spring Break. There just didn’t seem to be pressure to pile it on yet…because it was fourth grade, and we were still little kids who would remember later how much we loved to learn.
While all he is learning impresses me, I hope my son remembers his fourth grade the same way I remember mine and moves on eager for all that is coming in fifth grade.