Developmentally, the children are reaching the pinnacle of childhood. Physically, they are usually well-balanced and beginning to move gracefully and elegantly. Their bodies and musculature are still light. This is a pivotal time when the children can enjoy the final moments of childhood as they prepare to cross the threshold into puberty. Cognitively, the children are more able to understand questions and phenomena in a realistic and reasoning manner. Out of the growing memory powers, a sense for time has developed. Memory allows for looking back and planning for the future and, combined with deepening feeling, for the emergence of conscience and responsibility. Intellectually and morally, the child is ready for new challenges. Foundations for the basic skills in numeracy and literacy have been set down in the tenth year. Elementary notions of personal responsibility and a faculty for understanding "right from wrong" may be grasped from this age. Fifth graders are enthusiastic about learning, eager for new challenges and capable of hard work and creativity. They still have openness to the world, and a level of confidence that makes them easy to teach. They stand perfectly balanced at a point in their development that places them at ease in the world, harmonious in themselves and in their environment.
The curriculum supports this phase of development by beginning to explore how people in Ancient Persia, India, China, Mesoamerica and Greece began to settle and give up their hunter/gatherer ways. This is the time, it seems, that agriculture truly began, when writing began to emerge and develop, astonishing architectural structures were built and people worshipped their gods in complex and very formalized ways.
In Ancient Greece, however, the humans were beginning to have relationships to the gods much different to those of the Fourth Grade curriculum Norse Myths. The gods now had children with humans, Prometheus took fire for the humans – there is a distinct shift in the balance of power between the gods and the people who are there to worship them. So it is with a child at this stage in his/her life. There was a beginning sense of one’s own power, one’s own abilities, one’s own story. The adults still are in authorship, but, the child’s own sense of individuality is much stronger and much more available for learning than it ever was before.
The study of the emergence of writing is a perfect opportunity to step back and look at why we write, why is it important that we write beautifully, why is it important to write in the agreed form (spelling). It is only now that this has real relevance for the child her/himself. Studying early forms of writing and realizing that writing is an extension of memory is a very helpful insight for children of this age. They can also begin to see that with the emergence of writing, our reliance on memory alone decreases. That is, once we delegate what we want to remember to a page, we do not have to make the effort to remember any more. Writing, as with everything else, has to be done with a great sense of responsibility and awareness. What is worth remembering and what is worth writing about? If it is worth writing about, how can I write and illustrate my thoughts and ideas beautifully as did the scribes of the past? These are important questions in the language arts classes. Poetic writing, narratives written with a differentiated and beautiful choice of vocabulary, handwriting that is carefully executed. These themes become meaningful in connection with the cultural epochs now being studied.
The children have recited poetry from the very beginning of their school life. Now the beautiful meters of Greek poetry are learned and recited. A new relationship to the spoken word is developed by speaking Ancient Greek texts in the original and also in translation. All the work on reading and writing that has been done before, now begins to take on a real meaning as the children reach this level of consciousness.
In the grammar blocks, attention is paid to the use of tenses and comparative work is done with Spanish and Arabic or Mandarin grammar. (Arabic or Mandarin, depending on which language the class is studying.)
Decimals are added to the work on fractions. The children continue to calculate using the four processes. Fifth Grade is the last time that the children will only be working with arithmetic. Again, from the new perspective of the Fifth Grader, a study of how mathematics emerged is an exciting and helpful activity. Looking consciously at how numbers emerged, revisiting what was told in a story in the First Grade, and seeing that it all makes sense, is a very satisfying experience for the children.
Geometry is introduced in an artistic and meaningful way. Looking at how the straight line and curve of the First Grade lesson are used in all the patterns and decorations in ancient temples, again, allows the children to experience a sense of meaningfulness in what they are learning.
They learn how in Ancient Greece, Pythagoras put words to the phenomenon that was apparent in ancient temple alter designs. We now call it Pythagoras’ Theorem. They see how, when we begin to step back and look, that there is a lawfulness in the way lines and. curves work. These lines and curves were always there but it is he/she who looks, observes, thinks, who can create a theory around what is real.
The children work with lines and curves, creating shapes and learning the names we give to the shapes and why. The emphasis is on the beauty of these constructions at this point.
Working with geometrical forms with their exactness is a wonderful way of supporting the inner balance of the child as he/she gets ready to move into the more turbulent phase of pre-puberty and puberty.
Additional Blocks in Grade 5 are:
The children move from the Fourth Grade during which they study animals to the study of plants. The botany block is one of the first explicitly scientific blocks in the curriculum. The children study the stunningly varied plant life of California and other parts of the world. Through the study of how plants are nourished (e.g., through healthy soil and water), the children learn implicitly how important it is for us, as human beings, to nourish ourselves in ways that keep us healthy. The colors, the variations of plants and the beauty of the plant world, evokes a response in the child, helping him/her to feel satisfied and calm in the relationship to his/her surroundings. We are particularly fortunate in this part of the world to be surrounded by extremely bountiful and varied examples of healthy plant life.
Alongside the narratives from the ancient civilizations, the children's histories are also studied.
We move out of California into the whole of the United States, continuing to connect, of course, to the countries from which the people of the United States emigrated. Thus, the children can build on their sense of place not only in their own country but also in the world.