Teachers can expect much of the middle elementary child. He is able to work with diligence and should be challenged with more in-depth projects and questions. He is able to work steadily on research projects or crafts that would have lost his interest just a few years earlier. And he can even start assuming responsibility for cleaning up after himself!
If your students do not match that description, remember that almost 10 years of training have gone into this child’s makeup. What he can do and what he has been trained to do are different things. Know that your students are able to work and to assume responsibility, but do not expect that they have learned to do so.
It will help you achieve your goal if you understand that God has wired children to have high expectations of themselves at this age. Rather than forcing them into proper behavior, be a mentor who challenges them by setting high goals and standards.
Although most girls are still ahead developmentally, both boys and girls at this age can react physically with speed and accuracy. They enjoy organized games and can get involved in larger group activities than before. However, teachers should still avoid placing children in competitive situations, because these children desperately need approval from their peers and adults. We do not want our kids to feel like “losers” at church. This is especially true in middle elementary years, during which you will find that children are already placing their own unrealistic expectations on themselves.
In order to be emotionally fulfilled, this child needs a variety of meaningful activities. This will help him achieve a sense of usefulness and accomplishment, encourage his creativity, and enhance his self-concept. Artistic learning activities actually help him to internalize information. At this stage, he especially enjoys educational games.
In middle elementary years—third and fourth grade—the child begins to reach out to others and, for the first time, to show more concern for others than herself. She will enjoy missions projects more than ever before. She will be empathetic with peers and adults when she perceives that their rights have been violated or their feelings hurt. They have a strong need for mutual acceptance, understanding, and cooperation. Because of these traits, these children can be truly delightful to teach!
However, if you observe the use of teasing, put-down nicknames, or criticism of others in your classroom, you may be observing a child’s built-up anger. Children will use these as ways to vent. Although you do not want to approve of these venting mechanisms, first try looking at the child’s life circumstances to see what might be troubling him. The child himself probably will not realize that he is angry, or he would be more direct in his responses. The negative comments should be a red flag to the teacher that something is going on in the child’s life that needs to be considered.
In your classroom, you will almost certainly experience the “battle of the sexes.” Although children at this age are beginning to accept personal limitations and differences in skill levels within their own gender, they may well resent the opposite sex. Boys will develop friendships with other boys, and girls with girls. In fact, in order to develop correctly, these children need to have good friends of the same gender. The tension between girls and boys in your classroom may lead you to believe that classes should be grouped by gender. However, we have most often observed that boys tend to be a little bit more gentlemanly when in the presence and under the peer pressure of girls, and girls tend to be a little less silly and critical when boys are around.
Although they have difficulty admitting their own wrongdoing, children at this age are able to begin evaluating ethics and actions by biblical standards. Remember, these children are good researchers. Therefore, help the class work together to find Scripture verses that will be the framework for your class expectations and rules. In this way, God becomes the authority, rather than you.
At the same time, these children are learning about God’s forgiveness. If they have not already done so, they might now desire to be a member of God’s family. The child who has made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ is going to have help behaving correctly in your classroom, and you will have help touching his conscience when necessary. In middle elementary years, the child learns that he needs God’s help and guidance.
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