Tuesday, July 05, 2016

From the Archives: Social Studies for little kids

First posted July 2008. Slightly edited. I was planning Lydia's Grade Two year.

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.

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 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.

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.

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