Four is a sign of stability and strength and balance: the four winds, the four seasons, the four elements. Four represents a sense of steadiness and completion. It is this sense of four, in the midst of separateness and defiance, that is at the very heart of the Fourth Grade curriculum. In Grades 4 and 5, when the child reaches age ten and eleven, the transition from early childhood is complete and the transition towards puberty has not yet begun. This second seven-year period is referred to in Steiner Waldorf pedagogy as the "heart of childhood." In Grade 4 the child feels very much separate from many of the security and comforts that previously were supportive. This is a time to look around and see how one stands in relationship to that which is near and to find security and uprightness through that relationship. The Fourth Grader is at odds with the world. Questions take on a personal twist: "How do you know?" There is an earnestness stemming from a new awareness of just what they're up against in the world. Therefore, every possible opportunity is given to meet these oppositions in quite unexpected ways, ways in which the child can have the experience of crossing and, at the same time, being led towards a wholesome resolution.
Even though the child has now reached a certain degree of maturity, they still need the experience of living in a group, in a family, in the safety of a community. Stories about tribal culture and customs give the children the opportunity to experience the history of our need for this safety. The chief or leader of the tribe still makes the decisions, but the members of the tribe have their responsibilities and specific tasks.
Academic Content Overview
Independent writing and reading, comprehension text and independent research projects become a part of the work in Fourth Grade. Work continues in arithmetic and form drawing. local history and geography are studied, along with the study of animals.
Grammar blocks continue and work on adverbs, prepositions and tenses are added. Reading and writing becomes more complex as the children, too, become more and more able to grasp complex concepts. The writing skills are applied when writing about the content of the blocks in the morning lesson books.
Writing skills are practiced in context – spelling of words that the children need for their class reports, punctuation, grammar – all these aspects of writing are worked on both in the context of the blocks and also separately in language arts skills classes.
Additional Blocks in Grade 4 are:
The Study of Animals block explores the world of animals and the relationships and responsibilities of the human being towards them. Individual research and reports are a very important part of this block. Each child chooses an animal or animals and writes a report, including drawings and illustrations. The content is presented in a colloquium during which parents and guests can ask questions. This gives the child the opportunity to learn how to speak in public while sharing the excitement of what he/she has discovered and learned.
The growing complexity of the lives of animals as the human being starts to take over more and more of their habitats is explored, and the responsibility that we have for their well-being as well as our own is discussed and studied.
The children learn from each other and not only from the teacher. This is the beginning of the road to becoming an independent learner who is motivated by the passion for finding out more and more about life on Earth.
As the child begins to move out into the world more and more and the individualization process is moving forward, being able to orientate in the world, know where one is, geographically speaking, helps stabilize the child in the new found freedom of expanding boundaries. The children will have experienced the local terrain in their outdoor Classroom Without Walls days. Now it is time to reflect on the terrain that they know and see it in the context of California, the U.S. and the world as a whole.
Individual research is a large part of this block. Each child chooses a region of California to study in depth and presents a written and oral report.
Our local history gives the children another orientation in time – the story of their region is told. They can see how the geography of the region has influenced its history and how human beings have used the land has influenced the environment.
It is critical that the children experience the connections between all the subjects. The world begins to make sense. The children are beginning to understand cause and effect. The inner logic to one phenomenon influencing another begins to become obvious.
Now that the child has moved out of the symbiosis to a certain degree, the work on fractions begins. The child experiences on an unconscious level that she/he is not “the world” but a part of the world – thus it is no longer necessary just to work with whole numbers. All four processes are learned and practiced. Mental math continues with whole numbers and fractions, multiplication tables are practiced and used and all other math that the children have learned continues to be worked on.
Complex forms such as Celtic Knots are introduced to the children and they attempt to copy them. They also work on labyrinths and other complex forms, which they can create themselves.