Basic Social Studies: Concepts, Skills & Teaching Strategies

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn about fundamental concepts, skills, and teaching strategies surrounding social studies. We will learn how social studies content and themes can be communicated at the early childhood level through a variety of programs.

The Importance of Social Studies

Imagine if you had no understanding of the past. Imagine if you had never received an education in the discipline of history. You would have no context for understanding your national and racial heritage. You would have no concept of who you are as a citizen. Your understanding of technology would be limited to only the present, and you would have no idea of the ways it has progressed.

Social studies is a vital discipline. As human beings, it is essential we understand the story of our humanity. Studying history allows us to learn from past mistakes, and think critically about the present. It allows us to understand where we fit in with society, and gives us a vision for the future. Because of this, it is essential that we provide quality social studies education to children, beginning at a young age. We need to educate young children about the social world around them and help them begin to think about the past.

It is essential that we teach young children about the past, and provide them with the tools needed to succeed in social studies.
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Obviously, you're not going to teach a 6 year-old about the political climate surrounding the Election of 1960, or different ways of interpreting the Holocaust. Educators need to be mindful and ensure that their content is grade-level appropriate. However, even at a young age, there are some basic social studies concepts that should be introduced and some foundational skills that should be taught. Let's look at these.

Foundational Concepts and Skills

Obviously, students need to be taught what the past is. This requires a foundational understanding of time, and how time goes by. Even very young students should have a general sense that time passes. They understand, for example, that things happened yesterday, which will not reoccur, or that Christmas only happens once in a while (which seems like an eternity when you're a young child!). Students need to understand what the past looks like proportionally. By this, we mean what 100 years looks like compared with 1,000 years (don't worry, we will discuss this more in a few moments under the ''Teaching Strategies'' section).

Geographic location is another concept young students need to understand. They should learn the ways locations are different from one another, and have an idea of where locations exist on a map. They should also develop the ability to identify locations on a map by their shape.

Young students should understand the concept of community. They should understand that human beings interact with one another, and that groups of people develop based on things like race, religion, national identity, culture, and other commonalities. Of course, constructs like race, religion, etc. are concepts in and of themselves that young students should begin to understand.

Teaching Strategies

Now that we know the concepts that should be taught and the skills students should be practicing, let's learn some strategies to communicate these. Let's go back to the passage of time. How do we help young students grasp this concept? It might be helpful to ask questions about what students did last week, over summer vacation, or what they got for Christmas. These questions help students understand the concept of the passage of time. Timelines are an excellent tool teachers can use to put the past in perspective. Young students often have difficulty putting the passage of time in perspective. For example, they might know that a hundred years is a really, really long time, but in relation to 500 years or 1,000 years, they may be unsure of what that really means. Timelines allow students to visually ''see'' the past. The value of timelines for young students cannot be overestimated.

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