For many parents, it’s downright weird to have a fifth grader. Wasn’t it only yesterday that your kid was trembling at the kindergarten threshold? Suddenly, you’re the parent of a “senior” of elementary school. That means big gains in academics, and often growth spurts and hormone surges. Each kid moves at a different rate, and it can be a wild ride!

Fifth graders feel experienced and powerful, but confident as your child may seem, it’s important to take a good look at academic foundations. So what can you expect your child to study in fifth grade? For exact answers, look for academic standards on the website for your state’s department of education, and also inquire with your school. All public schools should comply with state standards; private schools often do as well, but have more variation in specific topics. As a general rule, though, you can expect the following:

  • Reading: After the big third and fourth grade frontier of “reading to learn,” rather than “learning to read,” fifth graders will read more complex stuff in every area. In literature, expect full length chapter books; but also expect new and challenging reading from social studies and science textbooks. These are important foundations for middle school: kids need to be able to harvest information from texts that aren’t necessarily “fun” reading. Make sure you tell your teacher if your child seems to struggle, this can indicate problems with reading comprehension which will only get worse if they are ignored. This is also a good time to enrich good reading habits by subscribing to a good newspaper and news magazine. Be sure to invite your child to join you in reading and in talking over the news. You may get only grudging acknowledgment at first, but take heart: you are supporting your child.

  • Writing: As in the previous grades, writing parallels reading. Expect book reports and story writing; but also expect new attention to creating full paragraphs and short essays that use evidence to make a point, provide detailed comparisons and contrast, or explain research in science or social studies. Teachers will put heavy emphasis on the writing process: outlines, rough drafts, and final ones, and you can help at each stage. But remember, while you can make observation and suggestions, any actual corrections should be made by your child only!

  • Math: By the end of fifth grade, your child should have more or less automatic mastery of all math “facts”—addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division—of numbers from 1-12. Equally important, your child should understand how those “mathematical operations” work, along with the role of place value, fractions, decimals, and beginning geometry. Make sure you check with your teacher if you notice glitches in your child’s understanding; middle school teachers will expect that these foundations are securely in place, and if they aren’t, your child may struggle to keep up.

  • Science/Social Studies: In keeping with kids’ expanding minds, fifth grade science and social studies will go into increasing depth. Although states vary somewhat, many of them will begin teaching American colonial history in the fifth grade, exploring complex documents like the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. In both science and social studies, they will continue learning independent research skills which they started in third and fourth grades. Do not be surprised, however, if your most supportive role comes on projects. Help your child break down calendar benchmarks, and organize materials, and you’ll most likely be a hero—even if your first thanks come in grudging monosyllables.

For most fifth graders, all these subjects come together in a year that is rich with friends, learning, and fun. Don’t be shocked, however, if you hit bumps along the way. The “tween” years are just around the corner, with all sorts of new issues beckoning. Stay in touch with your teacher, listen to your child, and don’t hesitate to seek help if you feel you need it. Kids may think they know everything, but teachers understand that kids rarely do well all by themselves. It happens when adults in their lives help. It’s a thankless job sometimes, but in the end, it can be one of the best things you’ll ever do.