Local Geography in Fourth Grade
By Barbara Benson
I think that Donna has done an excellent job of laying out a comprehensive geography curriculum starting in 4th grade. The very first three week main lesson block, Local Geography, covers the geography of your home and local area, up to the state level. No day by day schedule is provided, but she recommends dividing the week’s lessons into map reading and drawing (no more than one or two a day), field trips ( at least half day), writing in a main lesson book, painting, and a general cultural ( songs, poems, stories, recipes) study of your town and area. This is a unit that all my children really enjoyed so I thought I would review the general outline that we followed as a family with my youngest daughter.
In our first week, we began by learning some general orientation work to the four directions, and how the sun, the moon, and the north star help us to find that basic sense of direction. We went out on our land to orient ourselves to these directions and towards the end of the week, we worked on using a compass to pinpoint direction. Brief descriptions of the work with some colored drawings were done in the main lesson book.
In the second week, we studied maps and types of maps and did our first sketch together ( a bird’s eye drawing) of one of the rooms in our home. Later in the week we had a fun day measuring our meditation room and carefully drawing the basic shapes on the grid for a scale drawing. Although scale drawings are not generally done in fourth grade, my daughter learned a lot from the exercise and was very proud of her work. During this week we also read some Indian stories about our area and some local history of our town. We went out for a field trip to visit one of the historic homes in our area. She wrote up her experiences on the field trip in her main lesson book.
In our third week, we created a terrain map. We first took a hike into our woods and picked out an interesting location that had some distinctive features. Her choice included a large maple tree that had a clear Y shape in the higher branch and a hollowed out bottom on the trunk. It was due east of our trail near a set of stones that I had placed and oriented to the four directions about 25 years ago, called a medicine wheel. Once she chose her site she collected natural materials ( dried leaves from the path, little grasses, bits of bark, a large twig shaped generally like her tree) and we came back in to assemble a terrain map in our indoor sandbox. We began by wetting the sand and then created basic contour shapes and added natural materials for the site. She created paper leaves (painted and cut out), to go onto her twig maple tree and then stuck them on with modeling clay. She also created a paper compass so that her dad would be able to orient himself as to where the site was on our property. It is a family tradition that dad has to go out and find the site on our property using the directions from the terrain map. Towards the end of the week we all hiked out to the area and dad found her tree! My daughter was pleased and we all enjoyed our hike. This was also one of those poignant mother moments for me since all five of my children had done these sandbox terrain maps in fourth grade local geography and this was the last map with my last child.
At the very end of the week, we looked at globes more carefully and talked about the equator, hemispheres, and continents. We pinpointed her state and geographic area and touched briefly on latitude and longitude. We ended the week with a bit more on our local history and some Miami Indian stories.
This unit ties so nicely into the next geography main lesson on state geography and then the United States geography work. Enjoy your travels together!