Embracing Social Studies in the Elementary Classroom

“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 elementary it seems that it’s not viewed as a core subject any more. In fact, many elementary schools do not provide teachers with any curriculum. Schools will spend huge hunks 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?

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.

This includes offering education and training for teachers, and access to teaching resources.

2. View Social Studies as a Core Subject Again

Our schools spend large dollars on core subjects, but social studies isn’t one of them.

It is time to urge our schools to view social studies as a core subject again, and to make room in the budget for necessary teaching tools.

Otherwise our “students are denied opportunities to succeed in college, career, and civic life when social studies is marginalized.” (Council of Chief State School Offices)

3. Recognize the Impact You can Make in Your Own Classroom

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.

Recognize the impact that you can make. This is important.

What happens in the elementary grades impacts all other grades. Just like when a child doesn’t learn their multiplication facts, it wreaks havoc on the grade levels going forward. The same is true in social studies. It is certainly not fair to the upper elementary, middle school, and high school teacher when our students have been denied a social studies education. How can an 8th grade US history teacher delve into WWI when a student doesn’t even know where Europe is on the map? How can we learn about the Women’s Suffrage Movement when our students do not even know about our Constitution or amendments? Let's partner with one another to ensure our students are not denied a social studies education.

And more importantly, when social studies is marginalized, "students are denied opportunities to succeed in college, career, and civics life." (CCSSO.org) As an elementary teacher 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 voters in our classroom.

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

Not sure where to get started? Join a collaborative group of elementary social studies teachers. Click the image below.