Timeline of Life
updated August 26, 2022
Recorded here is my own personal collection of articles, resources, favorite links, teaching ideas, and lesson plans. It encompasses many years, from the very beginning of my experience studying and learning about Waldorf to the present time. People from all around the world visit my site and recommend it to others. Welcome!
This site records my journey. I hope my honesty is encouraging and helps break down some barriers that may prevent people from trying Waldorf methods. Because this is an ongoing site documenting my curriculum planning and ideas, some materials are more Waldorf-y than others. Please feel free to take what you like and leave the rest.
This page has helpful links and LOADS of free resources to help you plan your fourth grade year. Enjoy!
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Timeline of Life
for Class 4
In Montessori schools, the topic of the Timeline of Life is done every year in the Lower Elementary (ages 6-9) classroom.
It is the Second of the Five Great Lessons. In Waldorf schools, this topic is nowhere in the original curriculum. Steiner
had his own beliefs about evolution which do not match up with modern-day standard scientific thinking.
Of course, you don't have to do the Timeline of Life. Or you can do it at some point but not
in grade 4. I choose to do it in fourth grade because the Carboniferous Period (I don't like dividing it up into Mississippian
because you lose the connection with the giant fern forests and the fossil fuels of today) plays such a major role
in the local History & Geography of Southern Illinois. We are in in coal mining country here! I think that it makes
no sense to present the story of the land you are on without also talking about ancient life as well. Kids know all about fossils.
Of course, you can do this topic in grade 5 North American Geography. In grade 6 Geology. In grade 7 Microbiology (microbes being the first thing to evolve... but
how did that happen... and
then what came next and why?). In grade 8 Ecology. Or earlier. Or never.
But if you choose to do this topic, here are my notes from teaching it as a Montessori-inspired main lesson topic remotely
with some tutoring clients over Zoom in the summer of 2020. And, of course, you can read ALL of my
notes on ALL of the Great Lessons on my Montessori Library page.
Trek Through Time Graphics - USGS blog post
A fantastic time travel read aloud for this block is Peter Vogt's book The Monster Shark's Tooth: Canoeing from the Chesapeake Bay into the Ancient Miocene Sea.
Pinterest - Renee Schwartz
My curated collection of visuals! Browse sample main lesson book pages, watercolor paintings, chalkboard drawings, etc. for
From Lava to Life.
Sample Lessons and Free Curriculum
Other Helpful Links
Books to Buy
A LOT of options here (again, check my Montessori Library page), but I'm a
big fan of Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution by Steve Jenkins.
You could get that from the library; you don't need to buy it. It's helpful for the big picture. But I would pair that with the must-own series of Geologic Period books
by Doug and Claudia Mann. They are perfect for this age group... and amazing!
(And there's the companion fossil set too, if you want to go the extra mile.
But they are pretty small and I haven't found kids to have much interest in them.)
Steve Jenkins is my favorite author/illustrator of animal science books for kids. For fabulous paper collage illustrations of extinct animals from lots of different time periods, I strongly recommend
Prehistoric Actual Size and Apex Predators: The World's Deadliest Hunters, Past and Present.
List of Stories
Day 1: The Big Bang / Great Inflation
It helps to begin with the First Great Lesson, so I would recommend covering
that if you haven't done so (my new favorite book for this is
The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer). We drew an illustration of an exploding star
throwing its "bits" all through space. We are all made of star stuff!
You can also take some time to write down all the questions your students have on early life on this planet.
Day 2: Overview of the Timeline of Life
Review yesterday. Add words
of explanation for the exploding star illustration. Read Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution by Steve Jenkins
for the big picture view of the Timeline of Life.
If you're going to do a hula hoop weaving of the layers of the Earth you can begin that now.
It goes well with How to Dig a Hole to the Other Side of the World by Faith McNulty.
You can also use the Stamp Game to add up how many miles thick the Earth is from crust to center, by adding up
the numbers given in the text (20 + 3 + 150 + 1700 + 1300 + 860 = 4033).
Day 3: Precambrian Period
Review yesterday. Draw still-molten early Earth; write words of explanation. Use only
hot colors in illustration (no blue - no water; no green - no life).
Review timeline from Life on Earth. Read The
Precambrian Period. Discuss various types of fossils and the difficulty of finding fossils from life on
early Earth; press household items into play dough to see if someone else can identify what
made the impression.
Day 4: Cambrian Period
Review yesterday. Draw clouds, rain, and pools of standing water. Draw a magnifying glass with a bacterium. Look at protozoan illustration
from Prehistoric Actual Size.
Read The Cambrian Period. Look at fossil trilobite from
the Timeline of Life Fossil Collection, as well as
the illustration of
the warm shallow Cambrian seas filled with trilobites in The Drop in My Drink: The Story of Water on Our Planet by Meredith Hooper.
Look at lifeforms from the Cambrian Period in Life on Earth (trilobite, Hallucigenia) and Apex Predators (Anomalocaris).
I keep the books in the Geologic Periods book set organized by writing a letter on the back of each (A through M) and I have them stored
in a magazine holder along with the little baggies of fossils. I label the slip of cardstock that
identifies each fossil with the letter of its corresponding Geologic Period book. I can quickly and easily
put the books in chronological order, and also find any fossils that I have for that particular time period. Inside the front cover
of the Geologic Periods books I've also now written the book title of any other book I own that has an illustration of life
from that time period, and the name of the organism.
Day 5: Ordovician Period
Day 6: Silurian Period
Day 7: Devonian Period
Day 8: Carboniferous Period
Day 9: Permian Period
Read Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman. Review yesterday. Look at fossil fern from
the Timeline of Life Fossil Collection. Add Carboniferous lifeforms to MLB.
Read The Permian Period.
Look at an enormous pine cone from a longleaf pine... and note the spiral on the bottom! Look at
lifeforms from the Permian Period in Life on Earth (lizard, Hylonomus) and
Apex Predators (Dimetrodon, Mastodonsaurus).
Day 10: Triassic Period
Review yesterday. Consider the evolution of new animals that are between groups (like a part-reptile, part-mammal).
Read A Platypus, Probably by Sneed B. Collard III.
Add Permian mass extinction to MLB.
Read The Triassic Period. Look at
Alligator by Evelyn Shaw and compare the design of a reptile's hips
with the bird-hipped dinosaurs. Look
at lifeforms from the Triassic Period in Life on Earth (early mammal) and
Prehistoric Actual Size (Dinocephalosaurus, Saltopus).
Measure a piece of yarn to be the length
of the Saltopus (2 feet).
Day 11: Jurassic Period
Start finger knitting project (finger knit a piece of yarn to whatever length you want and then measure
it and we will find a dinosaur that was that length).
Review yesterday. Look at dinosaurs from the Triassic in Dinosaurs! My
First Book About Carnivores by "Dinosaur George" Blasing (Herrasaurus, Eoraptor, Coelophysis). Sadly,
his companion book to this one won't be released until Sep 22... just after we finish this block.
Add Triassic lifeforms to MLB.
Read The Jurassic Period.
Read a Stegosaurus poem from Bone Poems by Jeff Moss: "I'm Going to Ask a Stegosaur to Dinner" on page 45.
Look at fossil dinosaur coprolite from
the Timeline of Life Fossil Collection. Look at a few dinosaurs from the Jurassic Period in
Dinosaurs!. Look at lifeforms from the Jurassic Period in Life on Earth
and Prehistoric Actual Size (Morganucodon).
Day 12: Cretaceous Period
Measure finger knitted strings and find facts that go with each length:
Add Jurassic lifeforms to MLB. Read The Cretaceous Period.
Day 13: Paleogene Period
Measure finger knitted strings and find facts that go with each length:
Read "I'm Glad That Dinos Are Extinct" on page 76 of Bone Poems. Look at huge animals from the
Cretaceous Period in Apex Predators (Spinosaurus, Tylosaurus, Hatzegopteryx).
Read Pollen: Darwin's 130-Year Prediction by Darcy Pattison and discuss the co-evolution of flowering
plants and their insect pollinators.
Look at a few dinosaurs from the Cretaceous Period in
Dinosaurs!. Add Cretaceous lifeforms to MLB.
Read a few T. rex poems: "Something Else to Think About If It's True That Birds Are Descended from Dinosaurs" on page 41
and "Odd Pair" on page 60.
Read The Paleogene Period.
at lifeforms from the Paleogene Period in Life on Earth, Prehistoric Actual Size (Leptictidium),
Apex Predators (Titanoboa).
Day 14: Neogene Period
Review yesterday. Look at information on Paleogene animals from Prehistoric Animals by
Note: even though Zallingers book is from 1981 and not up to date, it is hard to find easy-to-read info on the Paleogene Period,
and I think it's important to give children
a visual image of that time period! After the dinosaurs, life on Earth did not immediately look like it did today. This book includes Paleocene
Epoch (Barylambda), Eocene Epoch (Andrewsarchus, Diatryma, Hyracotherium, Uintatherium, Hyrachyus, Basilosaurus, Carcharodon,
Arsinoitherium, Moeritherium, Brontops), and Oligocene Epoch (Baluchitherium).
Add Paleogene lifeforms to MLB.
Read The Neogene Period. Look at fossilized sharks' teeth (Miocene Epoch).
at lifeforms from the Neogene Period in
Apex Predators (Daedon, Teratorn, saber-tooth, terror bird) and Life on Earth
Day 15: Quaternary Period
Review yesterday. Add Neogene lifeforms to MLB.
Read The Quaternary Period through page 6. Discuss
California state fossil and look at La
Brea Tar Pits picture in G is for Golden: A California Alphabet.
Look at lifeforms from the Quaternary Period in
Apex Predators (giant short-faced bear) and Prehistoric Animals (woolly mammoth, woolly rhinoceros,
Irish elk, Megatherium, Glyptodon, imperial mammoth, Smilodon, Teratornis, cave bear).
Read pages 8-11 and 18-27 of
Animals of the Ice Age by Anne Neigoff (1977). This is a sweet vintage easy-to-read book
(with cassette tape) by Encyclopedia Britannica.
Again, these older resources are out of date. But they're a great starting place for early readers!
Add the Quaternary Period and the Coming of Man to MLB.
If you are going to follow this with something about Early Humans, I
highly recommend When Cave Men Painted by Norman Bate, The
Cave Twins by Lucy Fitch Perkins, and Early
Humans by Michelle Breyer.
My blog posts from planning a 2017 Summer Camp around the Montessori Second Great Lesson: