Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Crayons' Grade Two: Social Studies

My own second-grade Social Studies, in the experimental '70's, was called Environmental Studies, a word none of us had ever heard and which, I don't think, was ever fully explained. It took us forever to copy that off the blackboard and on to the covers of the new notebooks we were handed. I don't remember a lot about it, either, except for a trip to the sugar bush and some kind of a neighbourhood field trip where we walked around the block and pointed out various kids' apartment buildings. I think the baby chicks we hatched and any other science we did may have been lumped in there as well. For sure, though, it didn't include history.

Can second-graders do more than go to the sugar bush? Would we have "gotten" history in the second grade? No, not in the same way ten-to-twelve-year-olds do, or in the same way teenagers or adults do. Most seven-year-olds don't totally get maps, or dates. They don't get abstract ideas, cause and effect, or political things. But they do like stories, characters, heroes, villains. They do remember what happened and who did what, if not always why. It's the same in geography...I remember The Apprentice's map of the Mississippi, that started somewhere in Alaska. But she had the right idea at least.

So we read the stories of kings and heroes, the brave and good, and the otherwise. Some of the stories may be what Josephine Tey calls Tonypandy; some may be disputed or offer currently unpopular viewpoints. Did King Alfred burn the biscuits?--probably not. Does it matter? Are we teaching untruths or trivialities? Would it make more sense just to wait until they're older and more discriminating?

No, because we are teaching more than facts and dates. We are teaching "norms and nobility," to quote David V. Hicks. "How to live," to quote Charlotte Mason. We are giving them heroes--feet of clay though they may have--to "people" their imaginations. And we are building a foundation for later history teaching--again to quote CM, an understanding that we are not the only people, and our time is not the only time; that people long ago may have known less about technology, may have had attitudes about churches and kings that we don't share, but that they weren't any less intelligent or less human.

Does it matter that we don't start right at the beginning of time, or that some of the history we do is out of sequence? (Bible stories are history too, but we don't confine them to an "ancient history" year! And then there are biographies that come up out of chronological order, and dates connected with artists and writers and the Guinness Book of World Records...) No, not at this age; all "long ago" tends to be a bit hazy anyway when you're still figuring out the difference between a hundred and a thousand; it's after that that children can start making better sense of timelines and other more sequential tools.

Sense of space and place is also a bit vague still at this age, as I remember well myself from when we once drove through Washington, Ontario (a tiny little place) and I asked my father when we'd left Canada. My Squirrelings have also shown confusion (as do some Jeopardy contestants) over the concept of living in Canada, living in British Columbia, and living in Vancouver, for example. How can you live in all those places at once? But we have to begin somewhere--so we start picking out the Great Lakes (especially Lake Huron, a familiar place), Hudson Bay, the oceans. This year's work will include the Rocky Mountains, the Far North, and why it took Marco Polo so long to get from Venice to China.

And as I mentioned before, we are going to put extra emphasis this year on holidays, feast days, and special times of year; I'm including those things with social studies too. I picked up Festivals, Family and Food at a thrift shop and plan to use some parts of it; there are some parts of the book that are more...Waldorfish?...than I really want to encourage...the festivals are Christian, but some of the ways of celebrating them don't add much to our faith (e.g. the rituals of corn dollies (the fertility ones, not the Thanksgiving-decoration ones) at harvest time). Also the recipes are all British ingredients and measurements--good ideas but too hard for us to use here. But I do like some of the songs and activities, and the overall idea of following the seasons.

Related Posts:
Crayons' Grade Two: Outline
Crayons' Grade Two: Bible
Crayons' Grade Two: Science and Nature
Crayons' Grade Two: French
Crayons' Grade Two: Math
Crayons' Grade Two: Language Arts
Crayons' Grade Two: Literature & Teatime Reading
As Little As Possible
Grade Two: The Very Last First Time?


Katie said...

Mama Squirrel, I am enjoying reading about Crayons' second grade so much. Thank you for articulating the ideas behind history and geography for young children.

Mama Squirrel said...

You're so welcome!

Jamie {See Jamie blog} said...

Great post; I look forward to including it in next week's CM blog carnival.

Pen said...

Hi, I liked your post, and couldn't agree more with your take on history.


Kris said...

I never understood exactly what "Social Studies" was anyway. I had a lot of it in school and not much history, really, LOL. My boys like the history "stories" too. I agree, a bit of charactrer building with our history is a good thing.

Wonderful thoughts--thanks!

Sea Star said...

For my kids history is all about the stories and people. You are right that timelines and dates and such are a little beyond them at this young an age. We do a wall time line and try to add the people we study to it. They love to see who lived at the same time as whom.

I am enjoying your second grade posts a lot. We are just starting 2nd grade too. It is always interesting to see what others are doing.