Every spring my husband Cliff, an elementary school principal, invites his fifth graders, five at a time, into his office for milk and cookies. Information from these chats is used in the final assembly, attended by parents, to honor their children’s time at the lower school campus. He says a few things about each student.
He contends that fifth graders know the importance of people. One boy told him that “being around someone you love makes you nicer.” A girl suggested that a lonely person should watch the playground carefully because someone else is all alone, too. Just go over there.
They understand effort. A child recited a Thomas Edison quotation: “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” Many know homework is only bad when they wait until the last minute. “Always pretend the deadline is now,” one advised.
They know everyone should try their best.
Causes now matter to them. They pay attention to examples of courage. Ghandi’s statement, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” is as important as Olaf’s, the snowman from Frozen, who says: “Some people are worth melting for.”
They know everyone can make a difference.
At this age, a sense of humor deepens beyond knock-knock jokes. With understated irony, they can create an effect. One boy said his favorite quotation was from Richard Nixon: “I am not a crook.” When Cliff announced this at the characteristically sentimental assembly, it brought the house down.
They know everyone loves to laugh.
By now, they have a sense of personal history. They’ve succeeded, and they’ve failed. They know life can be overwhelming. One girl embraced the saying: “Accept that some days you are the pigeon and some days you are the statue.”
They know everyone struggles.
While a popular TV game show insists we should be smarter than fifth graders, I’m not so sure. The announcer asks fact-based questions, as if that’s all there is to wisdom. It isn’t.
Just ask someone who is eleven years old.
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