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3 Ways to Embrace Social Studies in the Elementary Classroom

3 Ways to Embrace Social Studies in Elementary

“You don’t need to teach social studies in first grade. They’ll learn all that stuff when they get to middle school.”

I absolutely cringe when I hear these words. We have become a system that places such little value on teaching social studies in the lower grades. Since the enactment of No Child Left Behind, 44% of schools have reduced the amount of educational time allotted for social studies (Council of Chief State School Offices).

With so much emphasis placed on test scores, subjects that are not assessed, like social studies have gone out the window. In fact, only 23% of American 8th graders are said to be proficient in civics (NAEP assessment).

It seems that in many elementary schools, social studies is just a subject that is taught “if there’s extra time.” What if teachers said the same about other subjects:

“Oh they’ll learn multiplication in 6th grade, I don’t need to teach it.”

“They’ll learn how to write a real paragraph in 7th grade.”

“I don’t have enough time for math this month. Oh well.”

No. That would never fly.

But when it comes to social studies in the elementary grades it seems that it’s not viewed as a core subject anymore. In fact, many elementary schools do not provide teachers with any curriculum. Schools will spend huge chunks of money, time, and energy analyzing reading and math programs, piloting a new curriculum, and strategizing a grade level plan, but when it comes to social studies, this subject just doesn’t make the cut.

So, what are we going to do to change things?

1. Go to our School Administrators

First of all, we need to speak to our school administrators and superintendents about the need for comprehensive social studies education for our students starting at a young age.

Print off a copy of your state social studies standards and present it to your principal. If you don't have a curriculum or are only provided with outdated and inappropriate materials or textbooks, ask your principal how they anticipate that you teach this subject with no resources. Ask that your principal use their discretionary funds for purchasing materials. You shouldn't have to spend money out of your own pocket, unfortunately, this often becomes the case.

I also recommend discussing with your principal the need for inclusive education and professional development. This includes offering social studies education and training for teachers. Districts are willing to spend large sums of money to send teachers to training conferences for math, science, and literacy, so let's spread those funds across multiple subjects, and include social studies.

2. View Social Studies as a Core Subject Again

When social studies is marginalized, it becomes an issue of student equity because all our students should be provided with a high-quality social studies education. This is a non-negotiable.

When social studies is placed on the backburner, “students are denied opportunities to succeed in college, career, and civic life." (Council of Chief State School Offices). Citizens are not built as juniors or seniors in high school. This is something that must be fostered at school and home in the early education years.

As elementary teachers, we carve the path for a student's involvement in civics life outside of the classroom. Let's not forget that we have the next generation of leaders in our classrooms.

3. More time in Social Studies Leads to Reading Gains

We need to change our mindset within our own classroom. Let’s no longer just "fit in" a reading passage here or there. Let’s make intentional time for social studies.

Did you know that a new study from the Fordham Institute found that there are massive benefits to spending more time in social studies? When teachers cut back on ELA and spend more time teaching social studies, they actually see the greatest reading gains. Sounds counterintuitive right? Check out this blog to read more on this interesting long-range study.

Change can start in our classrooms. Make room for social studies and in doing so, you will make a lasting impact on our next generation of leaders.

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