Average 9-year olds have started becoming independent and making their own plans. E.g. Sleepovers with friends and readiness for overnight camps mostly start at this age. They are trying to find their place in social groups of kids near home and at school. They may also have one or two very close friends. Yet, they are dependent on their parents.
Stepping beyond the imaginary worlds they were fond of, they start experiencing the real world and it’s events with higher sensitivity. They may have questions about disasters, death, and wars.
Some kids may begin to experience growth spurts while some others may be on the cusp of puberty. There muscles are also becoming stronger and in general they are becoming more aware of their body structure. Grooming, cleanliness and hygiene are important concepts to teach at this point.
On the cognitive front, they can deal with more complexity, have longer attention spans, and complete longer writing exercises on their own. They have higher knowledge acquisition and processing ability as well as concentration than 8-year olds. They can articulate similarities and differences in classes of objects. They can plan experiments, record observations, and do causal analysis that leads to conclusions. They can draw scientific diagrams. They can link the present and past and understand trends. They can understand and articulate changes over a chronological period. They can read maps and answer questions based on them. Though they can be involved in gardening at an earlier age, it is at this age that they can methodically participate in activities like sowing, planting, and weeding.
Implications for nature education
Drawing on their observation and classification skills, kids at this age can be set on the path of formal natural science understanding. Most science text books bring in the reductionist view, but nature education should develop a holistic perspective for the child. E.g. When classifying living and non-living things, they should learn the dominance that man has on nature and his shaping and moulding of nature’s materials to make objects of use for him. Similarly, the observations of living beings should not be mechanistic. They should be connected to ecosystems, life cycles, evolution, and biodiversity.
Fourth graders can receive a simple but formal introduction of plant classes, animal classes and their typical body structures (along with their own body structure, as a Homo Sapien). These should build on a preliminary understanding of evolution, if already provided. Practical exercises could include observing and identifying birds, insects, and butterflies.
At this age, they will also grasp the diversity and scope of a larger geographical area like a state or a region within a state. It will be useful, like before, to map natural ecosystems including rivers, forests, and grasslands on this map, and explore their connections with human life, agriculture, economy, and nature-centric occupations.
Other concepts that can be formally introduced are food, water, clothes, housing, agriculture and natural resources (materials and energy). These subjects, rather than being taught in an anthropocentric way, should also include connections with nature and impact of human consumption on nature. E.g. Housing materials, their sources, production processes and impact on nature can be discussed. Nature-friendly alternatives can be explored and demonstrated.