A history buff and educator shares four simple strategies parents can use to help history jump off the page.
By Amy Owen
The Battle of Bunker Hill was in 1775. Andrew Jackson was the seventh president. People often think of learning facts like these when they think of social studies class. Your child’s teacher likely works hard to show students connections between history, geography, civics, and economics and how we live today.
This school year, you can help your child see that history goes beyond memorizing the dates of battles and accomplishments of presidents. Here are four suggestions on how to make social studies relevant and exciting for your child.
Research the history behind your child’s favorite hobbies and interests.
Everything has a history: from fashion to farming (yes, there was a real John Deere) and from rap music to rappelling. Your child will practice research skills while gaining a deeper understanding of things he or she already enjoys.
- For the football enthusiast, use the internet or sports magazines to learn about the history of the Super Bowl or the career of a favorite player.
- Tailor the level of research to your child’s age and ability level. A high school student who loves to play piano might read a biography of Mozart while a young student just beginning to play an instrument might look at pictures of composers and listen to a piece each of them wrote.
Explore local history, geography, and culture.
We are fortunate in Tennessee to have access to historical sites, different geographic features, and a vibrant array of cultures. It doesn’t take an expensive vacation to expose your child to the best of Tennessee.
- You can use the website tnhistoryforkids.org to identify historical sites across the state.
- Make a game on a road trip of pointing out different geographic features like mountains, floodplains, or forests.
- Check out events in your area that celebrate diverse cultures – for example, you could try new food at a Greek Orthodox Church fair or hear a variety of music at a local festival.
Make the most of screen time.
What kid isn’t engrossed by technology? You can find podcasts of lectures from college professors, YouTube lessons from classroom teachers, and documentaries on everything from polar bears to presidents. Of course, not everything on the internet is high quality or designed for children, so use your judgment on what is right for your child.
- One site I have used is besthistorysites.net. It has descriptions of over a thousand websites about history and categorizes them by era.
- Ask your child’s social studies teacher for other age-appropriate resources that relate to what students are studying in class.
- You can see what your student will learn in each grade by viewing the Tennessee state standards for social studies here: tn.gov/education/standards/social_studies.
Practice civic engagement.
You don’t have to campaign door-to-door or spend hours watching CSPAN to be an involved citizen.
- Prior to an election, have your child help you research a few candidates or issues by reading pamphlets or websites, attending a local debate, or following the election in the news.
- It can feel daunting to talk about politics with kids, but you don’t have to know every candidate or party’s position on every single topic. Instead, explain why one or two issues are the most important to you and how your beliefs guide your decision when it comes time to vote.
- Civic engagement goes beyond politics and includes helping your community. Build on your child’s interests and strengths and your family’s values to look for opportunities to volunteer.
Consider trying one idea each quarter of the school year and encourage your children to develop a deeper understanding of and interest in the world around them.
Amy currently serves as the data services coordinator for the division of special populations at the department. She was a history major at Wake Forest University, taught AP World and AP Government in North Carolina, and most recently taught eighth-grade social studies at Sunset Middle School in Williamson County.