Now that your child’s a big cheese at elementary school, it’s easy to see how much he's grown mentally. It can be challenging to determine what a ten or eleven-year-old fifth grader can understand and what's beyond his comprehension. He may look like a preteen, but there's still some little kid just under the surface.

Jean Piaget, the psychologist credited with forming the theory of cognitive development in the late 1920s, created a list of mental yardsticks for children of varying ages. Here's what Piaget had to say about kids of this age:

  • Fifth graders can use deductive reasoning. On a multiple choice test when they don't know the answer, but know that answers A and C are incorrect, they'll realize that the solution must be B.
  • Fifth graders are capable of considering multiple possibilities before starting a problem. They can come up with a hypothesis and reason out the consequences. For example, after they learn what different chemicals are composed of, they are able to guess what will happen if those chemicals are combined.
  • Fifth graders can manipulate symbols dealing with abstract concepts as well as concrete objects. For example, they can understand that a statue of justice blindfolded symbolizes that justice should be blind, and only based on facts.
  • Fifth graders can classify objects according to many features, as well as classify them in a series according to one feature. The child can organize toy cars from smallest to tallest, while also grouping any similar colors together.
  • A child of this age can compare the physics of two objects. They understand the difference between areas, and can comprehend that four one-inch square pieces take up the same amount of room whether put together or spread apart.

Fifth grade is a heady year, with middle school looming on the horizon. Although your child looks like a giant, compared to the younger set at his school, don't forget that he's still a work-in-progress. Use Piaget's theory as a starting point. And then enjoy watching your child rise to meet the challenges and eventually sail past them. Just make sure that whatever pace he sets, you're cheering along the way!