Local History & Geography--Waldorf Grade 4

Fourth grade focuses on the LAND--the physical features rather than the human-made creations--which shape our history.  Thus, this outline is specific to Enumclaw, Washington, but I hope you can extrapolate to your own area.
From the title, you might think this is a social studies unit.  However, I included lots of science too.  (This was more than a one-month block as a result.) Unlike the usual "whole to parts," which goes from the big picture to the small detail, I started from local and went to state-wide.
I did these activities with my fourth grader and my ninth grader (who was earning a Washington state history credit).  We had no problems adapting our activities for both ages.

Week One:
  • Climb Mount Peak, a local "big hill" from which you can see our town. Note where there are rivers (even if we can't quite see them), high places, low places, etc.
  • Paint a very general map of our area, just with the basic physical features but still no roads or buildings.  D included Mount Rainier, the Cascade range, the White River, the Green River, and the location of the city of Enumclaw.
  • Visit Mount Rainier National Park.
  • Spend a day or two learning about glaciers and how they made the canyons and rivers of our area.  We read a book one day (mostly a lot of vocabulary).  On day two, we labeled a map with the names of the major glaciers on Mount Rainier (and what rivers flow from them) and had a test on the glacier vocabulary.
  • Learn how glaciers formed the rest of our state (the coulees, Dry Falls, etc.).  Memorize the major geologic regions of Washington, and make a map of them.
Week Two:
  • Discuss Mount Rainier--past eruptions, the lahar (ancient mudflow) on which Enumclaw is built, what it looks like in the crater.  (I used Discovering Mount Rainier by Dog-Eared Publications.)
  • Watch a video about the eruption of Mount Saint Helens (2 hours away from us).
  • Study the line of volcanoes--part of the Ring of Fire--stretching from northern California to southern British Columbia.  What makes a volcano?  Memorize the volcanoes of the Cascade range and identify them on a map.  (I used Cascade Volcanoes: a Discovery Book by David Purcell.)
  • Define and learn about watersheds and the water cycle.  (I used Beginning in the Watershed--Grade 4 from the For Sea Curriculum. I highly recommend this curriculum!)  We discussed our "ecological address" in the watershed, and determined we are part of the White River watershed, coming (mostly) off the Emmons Glacier on Mount Rainier.  Our house is almost on the dividing line between two major watersheds, so this was a tricky question :)
  • Go to the White River (we chose Federation Forest State Park) to sample aquatic insect larvae and determine the health of our watershed.  (This activity was also from Beginning in the Watershed.)  There were an amazing number of insect larvae!  This also turned out to be a perfect segue into future parts of our unit.  We found hundreds of dead salmon--those which had already spawned--along the river banks.  (We smelled them before we saw them!)  And we were able to hike part of the Naches trail which many early settlers followed on their way to our region.
Weeks Three and Four:
  • Learn the seven species of salmon and trout that live in the waters of the Pacific Northwest.  (This activity was called "Name That Salmon" from Our Home: the Estuaries--a high school curriculum from For Sea. This whole salmon study was a combination of activities from the 4th grade and high school For Sea books.)  We cut out and colored pictures of the various species, and identified which we had seen at Federation Forest.
  • Tell the story of the life cycle of a Chinook salmon who was born in Red Fish Lake in Idaho.  (Our family had a personal experience with this, having visited the lake one year when only one salmon had returned!  Thankfully, the numbers are now increasing.)
  • Visit two different salmon hatcheries--one in Issaquah and one in Orting.  We were able to tell the differences between the different species we saw :) and to see live salmon, dead salmon, and salmon eggs.
  • Discuss possible causes for the decline of salmon populations in the Northwest.
  • Read about research exploring how salmon find their way back to their spawning stream.
  • Learn about aquaculture and the three methods for raising salmon.
  • Explore how natural selection changes genetic diversity and how hatcheries alter the salmon gene pool. We actually made models of fish with certain genes, then used scenarios from Our Home: the Estuaries. Interesting stuff!
  • Tell Native American stories about the salmon.  We enjoyed reading stories about Raven and Eagle as well.
  • Make a diorama of Native American salmon fishing.
  • Role-play the meeting of different cultures with different values.
  • Analyze how the Boldt Decision (allocating fish in Pacific Northwest waters) has affected native and non-native fishermen.  We watched a video about this, then discussed it.

Weeks Five and Six:
  • Draw a map of our neighborhood.  (Here we finally got to buildings!)  N drew a map that extended to downtown as well.
  • Read selections from In the Shadow of the Mountain and Settlers of Enumclaw--local histories of our town.
  • Read aloud the book Sweetbriar Autumn.  N had been reading the prequel Sweetbriar, which introduces the first settlers of Seattle.  Sweetbriar Autumn is the fourth book in the series and talks about the Indian Wars which began in our White River valley.  The names and locations were very familiar!
D and N at Fort Nisqually (in Point Defiance Park)
More:  From here, we went on to study our state history--explorers, fur trappers, missionaries, Oregon trail, current events....  We learned a little about state government (N studied it in more detail), and memorized our state symbols--bird, tree, flower, etc.  We visited several other historic sites and museums.
We also expanded our study of the land--out to the estuaries and to the Pacific Ocean.  (Here we used the For Sea curriculum Life in the Estuary--Grade 3 as well as the previously mentioned high school-level Our Home: the Estuaries.)  We ended with a field trip to the Nisqually Delta estuary and wildlife refuge.  

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