There are some grades that I look forward to teaching more than others. One of those is fourth grade. It can be hard to know where to start when planning a new year of learning but this quick guide has everything you need to know to plan your Waldorf inspired fourth grade year.
The key to planning any grade in a Waldorf inspired homeschool is to understand where your child is at developmentally. Combine this with the traditional themes for the year, check guidelines for specific academic goals then add in fun projects. Voila! It can be very overwhelming so I’ve summarised the main points for you here.
In this post:
- Understanding the fourth grade child
- Themes in Waldorf fourth grade
- Setting academic goals
- How a Waldorf inspired fourth grade is different to third grade
- Suggested projects to include in fourth grade
- Handwork suggestions for the fourth grade child
Understanding the 4th Grade Child
Fourth grade is a transition year for children. Gone are the dreamy days of early childhood, the playsilks and maths gems. If it hasn’t happened already, many children will soon be letting you know that they are “too old” for circle time and that they are ready for more independent work. Reading is no longer a laborious task, it’s now something to be done for the pleasure it brings.
And yet our children are still very much children. Puberty hasn’t hit yet and they aren’t too cool for myth and magic just yet. Enjoy this year of living imaginatively into the stories before real history begins next year.
This is also the year when many children will begin to find themselves as individual people, separate yet a part of the world around them. Many children will notice differences in their abilities or in their family circumstances compared to those around them for the first time. I can distinctly remember noticing these things myself as a 10 year old, finding myself apart from the world for the first time. This is something to be aware of as parents, particularly if we have children with social or learning differences that we may not have explicitly discussed with them before. This may be the year to begin doing that.
These new feelings of separateness can be unsettling for children, especially the more sensitive ones. Expect a degree of questioning and defiance that you may not have dealt with previously. Also expect them to need comfort and understanding as they go through these changes in their inner life.
Our job this year as parents and as the facilitators of their education is to recognise these changes and to adjust our approach. We need the stories that speak to them where they are now, stories of finding yourself, of discovering the world, even of getting into mischief. We can also begin to introduce themes we may have sheltered them from before, albeit still gently.
It isn’t only the content that changes this year. It’s also time for us to change the way we deliver this content. Our children are ready for more responsibility, more independence and more in the way of expressing themselves and their opinions. Our teaching style needs to adjust to reflect this.
Themes in Waldorf 4th Grade
Most people who have any experience with Waldorf probably think of the fourth grade as being the year of fractions and Norse myths. But it is so much more than that.
In fact, you could be carefully following Steiner’s indications and not bring Norse myths at all!
Steiner’s story indication for fourth grade was to bring ‘scenes from ancient history’. He never actually said it had to be Norse myths but it makes sense as a choice in Germanic countries (and guess where Waldorf was founded!). So if these stories mean nothing to you or your children and neither of you have an interest, by all means swap them out for something with more meaning to you. Draw on your culture, the stories of local indigenous communities or take this as a chance to explore myths from around the globe.
You can read more about Steiner’s actual indications for this year in Stockmeyer’s big blue book or on Sagarin’s post, “Do I have to teach Norse myths in Waldorf schools?”
Because of that growing sense of separateness and independence in our children, stories that deal with conflict, confrontation and problem solving are ideal this year.
Now is also the time to begin exploring the world around them in an endeavour to understand it. Children are introduced to geography and mapping, starting close to home and branching out to the local area around them. Telling stories of flying over the area and getting a birds eye view are a great way to kick things off. You could begin to introduce state history and geography here too if you felt your child was ready towards the end of the year.
We also look at the difference between humans and other animals in our world. Traditionally this is one of the more anthroposophically influenced block(s). I discussed how I use Waldorf without anthroposophy previously so for me the two ‘man and animal’ blocks will look more like basic animal studies. We will look at herbivores, omnivores and carnivores, look at sea, land and flying animals, compare animals to humans, look at basic human anatomy and possible the biological origins of life.
And because I’m Australian, I will be adding in a block on the art and history of writing at the end of the year. This is a traditional block in Australian Steiner schools that doesn’t seem to be a thing elsewhere. If a history of writing block is done in your part of the world, please let me know in the comments below!
I draw our academic goals from the Steiner ACARA Guidelines which can be found free online. This combined with the checklists in Rawson’s big yellow book form a solid basis for goal setting.
This year we want to introduce children to a wider variety of books than we have previously. We are aiming for them to be confident readers who are able to read for meaning and to form opinions on what they have read. If you aren’t already, begin discussing the books your children read. Teaching the beginnings of character analysis is appropriate, possibly through creating character profiles during language arts blocks. You can also have your child write brief plot summaries and book reports as well. Don’t forget to have them practice reading aloud and listening to you read aloud as well.
Copywork, spelling list, dictation are all appropriate in fourth grade. A focus on grammar is traditional.
Please don’t feel like everything needs to go into their main lesson books though! Work on drafts through the week, have your children edit them and then write only the final copy into the MLB with an illustration at the end of the week. Work can also be done orally or on a blackboard where that works for the situation. Yes, we are moving into more formal academics this year but don’t forget we still want things to be done creatively.
Fractions are definitely a focus for fourth grade, but your children need to master fractions in this year. There is plenty of time, we want more to make sure they understand what a fraction is, why and how we might use them. Use lots of real world examples and make lots of drawings. Make sure you go over multiples and lowest common denominators, etc. Generally the aim is to get all the way to introducing decimal fractions but feel free to slow down if your child is having trouble.
There is also a lot of consolidation of previous year’s topics to get through as well as form drawing beginning to move more into freehand geometry. Again the ACARA guidelines are helpful here but also make use of Making Maths Meaningful by Jamie York (and can I just take a minute to say how much I love that the new edition is ‘maths’ not ‘math’ haha). Spend much of your time consolidating past learning, practicing those calculations with bigger numbers and also with a lot of mental math practice.
To make life easier for you, I have summarised the Steiner ACARA Guidelines here.
How a Waldorf-Inspired Fourth Gade is Different to Third
In third we were all about following authority and finding your place on the earth. This year we are all about finding ourselves in the world. The difference may sound subtle but it lends a completely different feel to the year.
Another big difference that quickly becomes obvious is that while third grade was very practical and hands on, fourth has a lot more writing and is more focused on building academic skill. Be sure to balance this with a lot of movement and plenty of project work, including handwork. Don’t let art and music be left behind either. It’s especially important to be mindful of including all of these things if you have said goodbye to your morning circle days.
With the move towards more independent work in your child’s homeschool days, don’t forget to provide the scaffolding for them to be successful. They’ve never had to manage their own time before so they may need help in the form of checklists. With projects and reports they will probably need some help in planning out what they need to do. Set them up for success.
Waldorf Grade Four Project Ideas
It’s not all bookwork in fourth. There is still plenty of opportunity for hands on projects.
If you are working with the Norse myths you could include bread baking and rune making.
Geography blocks lend themselves to all kinds of maps, including treasure hunts. You could also make 3D relief maps of your area using a modelling medium of your choice. Orienteering, geocaching and camping trips are fun additions too.
Your animal study blocks can be complemented with dioramas and models of animals alongside of animal study reports. Nature journals are a particularly great addition to fourth grade studies and can be continued in fifth grade with botany studies.
If you are including the block on the history of writing you can make clay tablets with inscriptions, make your own quill and different inks, or make your own paper.
And don’t forget handwork!
Handwork Suggestions for Waldorf Fourth Grade
Handwork in fourth grade is all about patterns and fine motor skills.
Cross stitch is traditionally introduced in fourth grade. A typical project would be to make a bookmark with a cross stitch design.
Embroidery is also typical of a fourth grade year. A lovely project I have seen completed in schools is to have children make an embroidery sampler on a piece of felt. This piece of felt is then sewn into a book with the middle felt ‘pages’ used to hold needles. When finished this becomes a useful piece to keep in their workbaskets.
Another project which could utilise either cross stitch or embroidery for decoration would be to sew a small hessian bag to keep their rune stones in. It could be fun to bring back the knitting fork from earlier years to make a drawstring for their bag.
With all of the Celtic knots appearing in our stories and form drawing this year, macrame might be a fun addition to your handwork repertoire. You could also go down the route of learning the practical art of knot tying.
There is a lot of fun to be had in a Waldorf-inspired fourth grade year. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a long time.
Remember the key to successfully planning this, or any year, is to get a sense of where children are at developmentally at this age (in a Waldorf context). Look at the themes for the year and understand their purpose so that you can make informed changes if you want/need to. Use the many fabulous resources available, books and the ACARA guidelines, to help set your academic goals. Aim to balance head, heart and hands in your teaching. Strive to be creative in your lessons. Include lots of movement, music and art. Don’t neglect handwork if you can help it 😉
Finally, remember we aren’t teaching an average classroom full of typical students. You are teaching the child in front of you, who is wonderful and unique. Keep them at the front of your mind in all of your planning. And have fun!
What are you most looking forward to teaching this year?