I was recently asked, “Why the 4th grade?” for our Ag in the Classroom (AITC) program.
The question came from Mike Orso, of Illinois Farm Bureau’s “Partners” podcast. The podcast – my first ever audio-recorded interview – can be heard online at www.ilfb.org/PartnersPodcast.
Most AITC programs focus on fourth grade because agriculture matches a lot of the Common Core Standards for the grade, including science, geography, social science, math, English language arts, and more.
However, our AITC is not exclusive to the fourth grade. Our Ag Day is for third graders, our Farm Shadow program is for middle and high schoolers, and we have events and outreach for all ages via all methods.
When I was in fourth grade, I remember learning about earth science and volcanoes for the first time, which sparked my interest in vulcanology and my love for Pompeii and ancient Roman civilization. I remember loving the Magic Tree House books, Scooby-Doo, and Sailor Moon, things I was introduced to at that age and still love today.
I loved going to school at that age because I enjoyed learning and because I was able to spend time playing with friends. I wasn’t worried about fitting in or being popular. I didn’t have to worry about “adult” things like money or finances. I didn’t worry about my GPA or extracurriculars. I just had to turn my homework in on time, study for my spelling tests, and pay attention in class to get good grades. Life was good – and easier.
I think that in fourth grade, I was able to explore my own interests and become myself. Prior to age 10 or 11, I was learning how to learn: how to read, how to write, learning the words and vocabulary needed to learn about other subjects. In the fourth grade, I was able to take that knowledge and read and study about topics on my own.
When it comes to ag in the classroom, I think the fourth grade is the perfect age to learn about agriculture. Instead of learning that a pig goes “oink” and a cow goes “moo,” we can teach students about the products made from animals. We get not only bacon from pigs, but also paintbrushes, chewing gum, and corneas and heart valves for transplant surgeries.
We get not only beef and dairy from cows, but also leather, soaps, and instrument strings. We can explain the process of pollination to fourth graders, not just say that bees are yellow and black. We don’t have to talk about the economy or world history, but we can teach about the food supply chain and how items end up on our grocery store shelves. We can mention topics in passing that will stick with the students forever.
I still remember that ROY G. BIV is the name given to the colors of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet), and that I should Never Eat Soggy Waffles to remember the directions of the compass.
Learning happens at all ages, but I think that the fourth-grade students are at a pivotal age for learning about topics that interest them. That’s why we target our AITC program to fourth-grade students, to teach them about a subject that is important that they might not yet know about. We want to teach them about agriculture, growing things, and taking care of the earth and its animals. After all, 1 in 5 students will one day work in an agriculturally-related career. They may not be farmers, but they will be chefs, truck drivers, airplane pilots, graphic designers, and scientists.
We should all find our inner fourth grader and become interested and fascinated with learning again – and why not start with an agricultural topic?