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Fourth Grade

Having crossed the metaphoric Rubicon in third grade, the ten-year-old child stands in a different relationship to the world.

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The transition from early childhood is complete; the transition into puberty has not yet begun. The fourth grader feels, “I am here. The world is there.” In the midst of separateness and questioning, even defiance, the child’s newly emerging ego consciousness seeks reassurance and uprightness in the world around them. The ten-year-old’s zest for life, quest for knowledge and intense desire to socialize can present challenges to some of the established rhythms of the first three years.

The fourth grade curriculum provides the child with many expressions of conflict and separation, of confrontation, indicating paths for healthy resolution and integration. The curriculum draws from two streams: the Book of Humanity and the Book of Nature. In such subjects as history, the child explores the question, “Who am I?” while science allows them to ask, “What is the world?” Some subjects, such as geography, incorporate both, stimulating a healthy “breathing” that can bring inspiration.

In third grade, the children felt the warmth of the group and identified with the Israelites and accepted the guidance of the chosen leader empowered by God Almighty—the teacher. In fourth grade, the teacher is no longer the chosen, undisputed one. The story curriculum moves from the monotheism of the Old Testament to the polytheism of Norse Mythology. Yes, there is the Allfather Odin who sees everything from his high throne, but he still has challenges to meet, has to work for his wisdom and is always in dialogue with the other gods. The gods, goddesses and giants all embody different personality characteristics. Thor is known for his temper and his strength in the fight against evil, Loki for his cleverness and mischief-loving ways that eventually turn poisonous. Through the Norse myths, the children experience courage and strength, a taming of the wild, undisciplined element and a transformation beyond that state. The story of Baldur and Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods, portrays a change in man’s consciousness that now takes place in the individual history of the children. At the end of the Edda, the dawn of a new world is indicated, serving as confirmation of the successful crossing of the Rubicon for the children. Although the Edda serves as the primary source for story material in the fourth grade, the Finnish Kalevala and stories of Vikings may also be used.

Fourth Grade Curriculum

Rhythm of the Day

Each day begins with Main Lesson. The main subjects, such as history, language arts, science and mathematics are taught in blocks of 2 hours per day, with each block lasting from 3 to 6 or even 8 weeks long.

For the fourth grader, the Main Lesson may or may not begin with a formal circle. However, movement is still an integral part of the day’s beginning. Body geography, remedial exercises, jumping rope, practicing times tables with bean bags and games, moving as various animals, walking a long-short-short rhythm to Nordic verses—the list of activities is long and varied and serves to wake up the children for the lesson to come, as well as address areas of need.

After Main Lesson the children have a hearty snack (brought from home) and time to play outdoors.

The afternoon consists of subject classes including handwork, movement, french, music and art, as well as lunch (brought from home) and more time to play outdoors.

In the fourth grade the study of fractions begins. In this year the children will learn the concepts behind fractions and learn to work with these in the four processes—addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.


Several periods a week are devoted to reading literature. An effort is made to coordinate the subject of the book with the curriculum, but not exclusively. Teachers approach reading in various ways. Some enjoy reading one book at a time with the whole class, with students sharing the task of reading aloud after having prepared it at home; others assign books to be read independently with written or oral check-ins; and others conduct reading groups. The goal is for children to be reading fluently and avidly.


Writing is a natural part of the morning lesson as the children write original compositions on a weekly basis in a draft book; these compositions get corrected and then later entered into their morning lesson book. The subject draws from the morning lesson presentations. Regular dictations are also given, and some work is copied from the board (often class-generated). Weekly spelling lists and tests are given. Sometimes curricular words are the focus, other times spelling rules and patterns, and other weeks the children’s own personal spelling demons. This is the year that most children become fluent writers.


Grammar expands to include an imaginative introduction to all nine parts of speech. Verbs are now placed in time—past, present and future—and are usually introduced through the three Norns of Norse mythology. The children awaken to how various parts of speech express different qualities, and this responds to their increasing variety of inner experience. They examine the four types of sentences (statements, questions, commands and interjections) and the use of quotation marks and other punctuation marks.


A double period weekly or every other week is devoted to painting with liquid or solid watercolors. Color stories and color harmonies ideally give way to form now. Norse mythology, animal studies and seasonal moods provide inspiration. The goal is to depict the essence of a subject figuratively by allowing form to be found in the play of colors. Children work in various other media as well, drawing from the curriculum: clay, plasticine, beeswax, drawing (almost daily) and crafts such as candle dipping, origami, Martinmas lanterns, etc. Form drawing becomes more complex with the introduction of Celtic knots. These intertwining ribbon motifs require attentiveness and alertness. Here a feeling of separateness comes in handy in order to keep track of the interweaving. Other forms require the children to complete them, invert them, reverse them or transform them.


Music is a wonderfully harmonizing force and helps the children to find their rightful spot in the class each morning. Fourth grade is full of rounds of various types, inspired by the season or the curriculum. The children learn to play flats and sharps on their diatonic flutes. Daily choral and individual recitation focuses on alliteration, a style that engages the will of the human being. Sources are the Kalevala and Norse myths. Animal poems and tongue twisters are also practiced.


A class play is performed at some point in the school year, its theme often one of the Norse myths. The children are involved in every aspect of the production, and the sets and costumes are kept simple. More informal skits in the classroom pepper the year and serve to stimulate and integrate the children’s learning.

Two blocks are normally devoted to the Human Being and Animal. We emphasize how the animal is anatomically specialized, whereas the three-fold human being is balanced and a generalist, capable of creating tools to serve their needs. The children learn about animals grouped by their chief characteristics, such as those with powerful metabolic systems (ungulates, herbivores), those that hunt and use their claws and teeth (carnivores), animals with highly developed visual abilities (birds of prey), etc. General ecological concepts such as habitat, adaptation, food chains and webs are introduced. Children often choose a particular animal to study and report on.

The study of geography and history become more formal this year with the exploration of the development of the Twin Cities and the state of Minnesota as a whole. Placing the children in time and space helps to orient them and connect them to the outer world. How the land, rivers, resources and climate determine the industries, activities and lifestyles of the people through the centuries is an important theme. The Mississippi River is a focal point. Exploring the life of the local tribes of Ojibwa and Dakotas reveals the intimate relationship between land and people. The lives of the voyageurs, early explorers and settlers weave a rich tapestry. The children learn to make the transition from pictorial drawing to symbolic representation in map-making. They orient themselves to the four compass directions and draw local and state maps.

Class trips are an important part of the fourth-grade curriculum. Many options exist for the local history and geography block: Fort Snelling, Gibbs Farm, Heritage Days, Mille Lacs Indian Museum, etc. Often the class takes a three-day camping trip to Lake Itasca, the headwaters of the Mississippi, at the end of the year. Of course, the Minnesota Zoo and Como Zoo offer unique opportunities to enrich our Human Being and Animal blocks.