Work by Jacqueline M. DiSanto is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
As you prepare to teach young learners about social studies, your first step is to consider these two questions:
What is Social Studies?
How is Social Studies linked to the other academic content-areas in the curriculum?
According to the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS):
Social Studies is the integrated study of the social sciences and humanities to promote civic competence. Within the school program, social studies provides coordinated, systematic study drawing upon such disciplines as anthropology, archaeology, economics, geography, history, law, philosophy, political science, psychology, religion, and sociology, as well as appropriate content from the humanities, mathematics, and natural sciences. The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world (National Council for the Social Studies [NCSS], 2019).
Each of the disciplines mentioned in the definition offered by NCSS provides information, structures, and rationales for behavior that impact on a person’s ability to develop civic competence. Civic competence is a person’s ability to serve as a productive, contributing member of a community. These are just a few examples of what a civically competent person can do:
Obey city, state, and federal law; understand why these law exist and the consequences for breaking them;
Vote in local, state, and national elections; research the beliefs and platforms for each candidate and make a choice that can benefit the individual and the greater community;
Be gainfully employed; apply for and maintain employment in a position for which the person is qualified;
Balance a personal budget; pay bills, use credit wisely, and save for the future;
Exist amicably in a local neighborhood; maintain a home.
Maintain a level of cultural competence and appreciation for diversity.
Teaching is a collegial profession. You will interact on a daily basis with administrators, other teachers, paraprofessionals, and staff. Your closest working relationship will be with those teachers the same grade or age group of children as you. You will share lesson plans, teaching strategies, and resources.
Under school standards across the nation, those for early-childhood learning may appear simple and applicable only to young children. For example, a Math lesson may focus on having kindergarten children sort objects and put them into pouches on a wall chart. However, it is not just Math—it is an early social-studies concept that will lead to more sophisticated skills. The sorting exercise done in a Prekindergarten (PreK) class is the introduction to, among other skills, the ability to read charts for information.
The early-childhood content areas are:
Literacy and English Language Arts
Traditionally, early-childhood teachers are responsible for delivering instruction across these content areas. You may also have specialists come in for Art, Music, Physical Education, and Technology.
Social Studies is an umbrella subject that includes topics covered in each of the other content areas. NCSS has established ten thematic strands for Social Studies and provides explanations for each strand (https://www.socialstudies.org/standards/strands, 2019). They are:
Time, Continuance, and Change
People, Places, and Environments
Individual Development and Identity
Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
Power, Authority, and Governance
Production, Distribution, and Consumption
Science, Technology, and Society
Civic Ideals and Practices
How are they connected? What other content areas support social-studies instruction? Consider this easy example:
You are preparing a lesson on geography, which is a topic addressed in the People, Places, and Environment for your Prekindergarten class. A common activity for them would be to draw a local space such as a street, their classroom or a park.
Many different skills are involved in this seemingly simple task. Drawing shapes and leaving spaces are Math skills and selecting appropriate colors falls under Art. Literacy in the early-school years is often demonstrated through artwork. You could ask the children to describe what they drew or explain why they chose a specific color.
As you prepare activities for this course, you will be asked to identify one connected content area from Art, Literacy/ELA, Mathematics, Music, Science, and Technology.