I have been deeply immersed in planning for the upcoming school year over the past few weeks. My oldest child will be a fourth grader this year (how did that happen!?) and for the first time I am planning without a curriculum. We have used and loved Lavender’s Blue Homeschool for first through third grades but it looks like there may not be a fourth grade in time for us to use. I’m not very good at waiting to find out, so I decided to take the plunge and plan fourth grade myself.
The idea of planning curriculum myself has felt super intimidating in the past, but I have been participating in the Homeschool with Waldorf training for the past six months, and this month participated in Jean’s Plan-It-Out, and both of those experiences have me feeling pretty darn confident about what I’m doing!
Fourth grade is a super rich grade with so many fantastic themes. I’m really excited about diving into local geography and U.S. geography. Other elements of a Waldorf fourth grade are a little more intimidating to me, like the Human and Animal block, which I have read a ton about but doesn’t fully make sense to me yet. If I don’t end up figuring it out, we will just go with a Zoology block.
I thought it would be fun to share a sketch of what I have planned for my fourth grader in case anyone else out there is planning this grade too. It’s always fun to compare notes!
Our first block of the year will be local geography, so we’ve decided to spend our last week of summer doing an Oregon road trip. It’s not totally planned out yet, but our goal is to hit some big geographic landmarks for this state, including the coast, the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, several rivers, Crater Lake, the high dessert, Smith Rock State Park and either Mt. Hood or the Columbia Gorge on the way home to Portland.
When we start school the following week, my plan is to spend the first week focusing on getting back into our school year rhythm and adjusting to my fourth grader being back at ballet (three times a week this year instead of two). I plan to print some photos from our trip and have my 10-yr-old make a scrapbook and write captions under the pictures. I always find that having a slow start to the year is helpful.
The rest of our block will be spent learning about the various regions of Oregon and working on drawing maps. I really like the Waldorf approach to geography, which starts with the child and expands gradually out. So, initially you talk about the child’s immediate surroundings and begin by drawing a map of her bedroom (in Waldorf schools it is the child’s desk, but the bedroom makes more sense for us), then you follow with a map of the house, a map of the neighborhood, a map of the city and THEN a map of the state. We will pick up this theme later in the year when we expand even further out with a study of U.S. geography.
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One of the strengths of Waldorf, in my opinion, is the approach of educating through story and I was struggling for a while with how to bring this subject through story. After a long search, I found two fantastic resources. The book Coyote Was Going There: Indian Literature of the Oregon Country has some wonderful stories that relate to local geography, like the story of Coyote releasing the fish into the Columbia River and how the Cayuse Indians stole fire from inside Mt. Hood. The second book, That Happy Summer and Other Stories of a Child’s Oregon, is about a pioneer family that settled land in Alpine, Oregon in 1910. I love that the book is written from a child’s perspective and what is coolest of all is that my fourth grader has great-great-grandparents that lived in Alpine. The goal of this block is to provide my child with a strong sense of place and I think both these books will help to do that.
Some other resources I’m planning to use for this block include:
- Me On the Map
- As the Crow Flies – A First Book of Maps
- Mapmaking with Children
- Follow that Map! A First Book of Mapping Skills
- Apples to Oregon
- The Student Atlas of Oregon Web site has so many great, free maps to download.
- I am planning on introducing the Oregon Trail toward the end of this block and the Oregon Trail Education Resources Guide is a very helpful jumping off point! This is a free resource from the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.
I have a feeling we will have a hard time leaving local geography behind, but I have a math review block planned for October. I haven’t 100% decided on what resource to use, but I will be reviewing concepts we covered in grades 1-3 along with perhaps using something like Oak Meadow’s Fourth Grade Math book. My goal is to do as much of this block as possible outside. We won’t be making a main lesson book in this block, so I think we will be fairly mobile and I want to get my kids as much outside time as possible before the rainy season begins.
In November I plan to do the Human and Animal block. As I said, I am still piecing that block together, but there are quite a few great resources available online, including the free Human and Animal Study Manual from the East African Waldorf Teacher Development Program, Carrie from A Parenting Passageway’s thoughts here and this post with resources and a suggested outline and some great main lesson book inspiration (for all the blocks, actually) here. So far I have ordered these resources for this block:
- The Human Being and the Animal World by Charles Kovacs
- Drawing from the Book of Nature by Dennis Klocek
- The Burgess Animal Book for Children by Thornton Burgess
- I am also planning on using some reference books, like DK’s First Animal Encyclopedia, Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide, Wildlife in the World, and the Atlas of Animal Adventures.
- My goal is to give my fourth grader a book for her to read independently for each block. For Human and Animal / Zoology I’m thinking about Journey of the Pale Bear, which is a story about a boy’s special relationship with a polar bear.
One of the beautiful things about planning my own curriculum is that I get to plan for us to take the entire month of December off without any guilt or feelings of “falling behind.” My fourth grader will likely be dancing in The Nutcracker again and that takes a lot out of the whole family. Beyond that, I am planning on doing some baking,
stress-eating fudge in the bathroom, decorating, gift making and reading Christmas books.
In January we will be diving into Norse Myths! This is another totally foreign topic for me as I never studied these myths in school or read them on my own. Many resources recommend doing Norse Myths over two blocks because there is a lot to cover, but I have other priorities for fourth grade, so we will be reading them all in January. I am reminding myself that we don’t have to do something (a main lesson book page, a painting, a hands-on project) for every story we read. We can read some and just experience them. I’m working on sorting through which we will highlight in the main lesson book, but also want to leave some room for my child to tell me which stories resonate the most.
Resources I’m planning on using for our Norse Myths block include:
- D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths
- Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman (for independent reading)
- Leif the Lucky, also by the d’Aulaires and also for independent reading
- The Saga of Erik the Viking by Terry Jones, another option for independent reading.
In February we will be tackling our first block on fractions. I will be using the Making Math Meaningful source book for creating this block, and we will do a second block on fractions in April. There are also some wonderful sample main lesson book pages you can see here, along with Jamie York’s math practice sheets that we used and loved all last year. I have some really helpful chalkboard drawings saved on my fourth grade Pinterest board and I think these blocks will be very hands-on and fun. I am also thinking about buying something that will provide some worksheet pages for my fourth grader to be able to practice the concepts with, and am considering either the Key to Fractions series or the Math Mammoth fractions books.
In March we will be covering U.S. Geography, which will be an extension of what we learned in our local geography block. I am planning on introducing the states and some history but am not planning on making this a super fact-heavy block because we will cover U.S. History when she gets a little older. I am planning on using tall tales to present the spirit of America in an imaginative way, along with some fun map projects. Some resources I’m planning to use for this block include:
- Mary Pope Osborne’s American Tall Tales
- Cut From the Same Cloth: American Women of Myth, Legend and Tall Tale by Robert San Souci
- The 50 States: Explore the U.S.A. with 50 Fact Filled Maps along with the activity book
- The United States of America: A State-by-State Guide
- For independent reading for this block, I’m planning on suggesting Rachel’s Journal: The Story of a Pioneer Girl or Bound for Oregon or finding something from this amazing list of children’s frontier fiction.
After our second block on fractions in April, I am really excited about wrapping up our year in May with a final block on zoology. This will be a more mainstream approach at looking at animals. I’m planning on trips to the Zoo and lots of independent research for my fourth grader. I will be asking her to write a report on an animal of her choosing. There is a really nicely detailed description of what this process could look like and how to pace it over several weeks on the Waldorf Inspirations site … scroll down to the free download labeled Fourth Grade Animal Project and Presentation.
Some other resources I’m using for planning the year as a whole or have used for various blocks include:
- Waldorf Homeschooling Simplified
- Creative Pathways is a free ebook that has grade-by-grade ideas for bringing the subjects to life with art
- Learning About the World Through Modeling is another free ebook that is organized grade-by-grade. I just printed out the pages I needed for fourth grade. Some fun ideas for modeling for both the Human and Animal block and the Norse Myths block.
- The Waldorf Book of Poetry has lots of poems to pull from for both Norse Myths and the Human and Animal Block.
- Painting and Drawing in Waldorf Schools has examples of paintings, again mostly for Norse Myths and Human and Animal.
So that’s it! Fourth grade in a nutshell. I am feeling really good about it and am really excited to explore these subjects with my 10-year-old. Of course things never go exactly to plan, but I feel good to have these plans in place. What’s that Einsenhower quote? “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” I think he probably wasn’t talking about homeschooling when he said that 😉 but gosh it sure does apply.