The Fifth-Graders are Coming!

A fourth-grader takes charge of playground bullying
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Photo by Joel Blit/

History. We can learn a lot from it. An inventor’s idea that proved successful. A leader’s decision that changed the world. Other stories where the nice guy, or gal, finished first. Conversely, history includes wars, the Great Depression and events we’d just as soon not have to explain to our children.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve sheltered Jessie from select topics. However, as she reminds me — all the time — she is 10. My wife and I allow her to read the newspaper, but we can’t clip out all the stories we wish her young eyes didn’t have to see. It’s better, though, to get an explanation of an upsetting current event from Mom or Dad than from a fourth-grade classmate. Still, my inclination is to wrap my arms around her, to fight her battles and, yes, to shelter her. 

Battles and challenges closer to home can pop up anytime. One day during the drive home from school, Jessie said her fourth-grade class was having trouble with some fifth-grade boys interrupting their game at recess. My first thought was, “I’ll go to school tomorrow and you won’t need to worry about those fifth-grade bullies.” Okay, I didn’t really think that — but my initial reaction focused on “Dad to the rescue!”

I suggested that maybe she could gain the assistance of a fifth-grade girl, but finished the conversation with, “I’m sure you’ll work it out.” Jessie knows that her parents, teachers or fellow classmates would not look upon tattling favorably, so she felt she was in a bit of a tight spot. At this point, I’ll let Jessie share her side of the story.

Jessie’s Perspective

Hi, all. We’ve been having a little bit of a fight with some of the fifth-graders at school this year. We go outside before them. When they have recess, they come tearing out to the four square. Now, I don’t have anything against fifth-graders, but I don’t believe that they should ruin our game. I don’t mind if they join us, but they change the rules. One fifth-grader said, “You can spike the ball to the other fifth-graders, but not to these little weaklings.”

Day after day, the fifth-graders took over, until finally one of my best friends and I made a plan for a protest. In social studies, we are learning about when American colonists were mad at the British for having to pay unfair taxes. That’s how all of my friends and I feel. The fifth-graders are forcing us to play by unfair rules or quit. So the words that the colonists said were, “No taxation without representation.” We decided to come up with a protest to rhyme with that. 

Finally, after some hard thinking, my friend said, “I’ve got it!” Though it was my friend’s idea, she didn’t want to join in the protest. So I, by myself, stood in the middle of the four-square game shouting, “No spiketation without rules of the nation!” Now my protest may not have worked, but that’s not the point of this column. My point is to stick up for what you believe in, even when it means humiliating yourself in front of a whole bunch of tough fifth-grade boys. I was not embarrassed at all, however, because I knew that I had stood up for what I believed in. That made me proud.


When I picked up Jessie from school that day I asked, “How was recess?” She proudly told me about what she called her “one-woman protest.” My chest puffed out as she described the events on the playground that day. When we arrived home, we called her mom, who was seriously proud, too. Jessie might not have changed the world, or even recess, but she stood up for herself, her friends and her sense of fair play. 


Patrick Hempfing had a 20-year professional career in banking, accounting and auditing before he became a father at age 44. He is now a full-time husband, stay-at-home dad and author of “MoMENts: A Dad Holds On” (available at Follow him at

J.L. Hempfing began writing with her dad in kindergarten. Her current hobbies include reading, writing, playing clarinet and alto saxophone, and dancing.


Categories: Dads, Family, Parenting