There has never been a more important time to learn social studies in Canada: our sense of identity and history is constantly evolving as we look back on the devastating impacts of colonization, all while looking forward to a world of rapid technological advancement. At the same time, environmental stewardship - our relationship with the land - is hitting peak significance as the issues around climate change become increasingly real. It’s time to think critically about our history and our geography, and to ensure our kids become aware and active citizens to secure a happy and healthy future.
Social studies is the study of the relation between people and their world. In elementary school and high school, it is known as the subjects of history and geography. In post-secondary studies, those branches extend to a vast array of topics like law, culture, gender studies, geography and the environment, ancient history, media, religion, agriculture, economics, anthropology, women’s studies, international relations, politics and more. Social studies is an interdisciplinary study, as it combines a variety of topics. You will find few subjects that relate to real life as much as social studies, and the subject connects to a variety of careers: law, environment, social services, farming, sales, politics, business, and so on.
An Underrated Subject
Despite the significance social studies has in the real world, we seldom acknowledge it as a major topic of study. Parents are more inclined to prioritize the fundamental areas of math and language; those considering it as an area to learn for themselves lump it as a ‘soft science’. And yet, we are constantly immersed in social studies, and knowledge of its importance can make us better citizens and more informed voters.
Look at the news or take a scroll through your Twitter feed, and you will find all sorts of news about national and world leaders, party politics, global warming, pandemics, crime, business news, natural disasters, and weather. All of these topics relate back to social studies, yet a lack of understanding about how everything is connected can lead to issues like misinformation. Social studies teaches us about how the world operates, from the economy to political ideologies. To learn social studies is to learn about your very surroundings.
Now that we know what social studies actually is, let’s focus on some of the main issues around the topic and some of the best ways to learn it.
Do you want to get your child into social studies? Read this article to learn more.
Re-Learn Canadian History
As a subject, Canadian history helps us to develop new skills, strengthen our sense of identity, and understand Canada’s relationship with the world. When we learn history, our reading, writing and critical thinking skills are enhanced as we explore the events of the past. Read a variety of perspectives on a single historical event and you will surely see how narratives and perspectives change from one author to another, and especially through different times of history. Watching a historical film from the 1970s, for example, will be shockingly different from a movie on the same event made in 2018: as ideologies and knowledge shift, so does our understanding of the past. Critically examine any historical interpretation of history and you will be surprised by the insights you glean.
Learning Canadian history or even the history of our heritage countries helps us to strengthen our sense of identity and who we are as Canadians. Delve deep and learn about your ancestors: you’ll build a stronger personal connection to your family’s past. When we learn history skills, we learn how to become better researchers and see our life as it is connected to nations, societies, and trends from past to present. You may even develop a stronger sense of pride in who you are, and develop an idea of how to improve from the past.
Re-learning Canadian history helps us to understand Canada’s relationship with the world and even it’s own problems. Learning about colonization, for example, will help you to understand the influence of British and European culture on Canadian society, and the detrimental impacts of that culture on Indigenous people and the natural environment.
Are your interested in learning ancient history? Learn the best ways to get your studies started.
A New Understanding of Canada
When we study history - not just of Canada but of other places around the world - we enhance our understanding of current events and why the world is organized the way it is. For example, learning about colonization, its detrimental impacts to Indigenous people around the world, and its influence on the world economy can give you a better understanding of governments around the world and their official languages. You’ll deepen your knowledge of current international conflicts, as in many cases they stem from the past.
The traditional view of Canadian history typically starts with the British and French arriving at the ‘new world’, and progressing to a world where Canada is an economic and human rights leader. Starting with the exploits of the explorers - Cartier, Champlain, Brule - then moving on to the fur trade and economic dominance, then British reign, followed by Confederation and Commonwealth, we see Canada as following a steady narrative. Sir John A. MacDonald is perceived as the grandfather or architect of Canada, a nation of English and French.
While all of these perspectives have some truth and validity, the classic historical narrative misses many key points and perspectives. Learning Canadian history in today’s context will give you a much different perspective. You will see that there are in fact diverse voices in the national fabric, Indigenous cultures that have been inhumanely oppressed, and that Canada was in fact part of a larger historical narrative tied to the nefarious transatlantic slave trade. A study of modern Canadian history takes the perspectives of vast newcomer communities into account, and their experiences trying to find a place in a widely Eurocentric society.
So where does Canadian history go from here? The reality is that new textbooks, media, and ways of teaching have yet to be explored and discovered so that all voices can be honoured that have been part of Canada’s past for the past few hundred years, and not just the legacies of the powerful.
Brush up on Ancient History
Why stop at Canadian history? A study of history might also incorporate the history of the ancient world, which extends around the world. Ancient history is deeply intriguing, yet somehow isn’t valued the same as other, more “practical” disciplines that support job acquisition or career growth. However, there are few other subjects that will fill you with the same awe and wonder as ancient history. Think Greek philosophers, Roman Empires, Mayan calendars, and the intricate temples from everywhere from South America to Southeast Asia. Sure - you might not become Indiana Jones - but you will most certainly learn things that will change your way of thinking about the world for years to come.
Why Ancient History is Important
It’s important to study ancient history because it provides us with a global view of the world that spans over thousands of years. Understanding how ancient societies thought, coped with problems, used their environment, and developed new technologies tells us how our own world can thrive and succeed. Studying ancient history helps us to learn more about our ancestors, heritage, and what the past can teach us. When we learn ancient history, we can marvel at how our predecessors lived and thrived with the resources available at the time, their rituals and ceremonies, and how different and similar they were to ourselves.
Studying a discipline like ancient history also keeps us mentally sharp and stimulated. Taking new classes builds our social networks with others that have common interests and passions. You might even be inspired to take a journey around the world to historic sites that have been preserved: Machu Picchu, the Colosseum, the Great Wall of China, Stonehenge, and Angkor Wat are just a few places you might go to.
The Best Ways to Learn Ancient History
Now that we understand the rewards of studying ancient history, let’s look at some easy ways we can start learning it regularly. No - you don’t have to go back to college or university to learn!
Take a Trip to the Museum
One of the easiest ways to learn about the ancients is to visit a museum. You’ll find a museum of history in most large urban centres that will contain installations or exhibits on one or more ancient civilizations: Mayans, Aztecs, Persians, Indigenous, Chinese, and Romans, just to name a handful. Museums do a great job of providing visitors with immersive content and loads of artifacts - you’ll learn without even realizing it. If you don’t have a major museum near you, be sure to check out websites for Canadian museums like the ROM in Toronto, or go international and visit a virtual exhibit from anywhere around the world, like the Natural History Museum in London or the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. If you do have a museum close to home, get a season pass and immerse yourself in history whenever you can.
There has never been a better time to re-learn Canadian history. Find out why.
Take a Trip
Why not do the ultimate discovery and visit the sites of ancient civilization? Travel is a powerful learning experience that gives you a true glimpse of ancient history up close, from aqueducts to spas and palaces. Picture yourself at the Great Wall of China, gazing at the Parthenon in the Greek sunshine, or climbing the ascent to Machu Picchu. There are plenty of guided tours you can take when you get there to make it an unforgettable social experience.
If you have kids, travel can be an incredibly exciting way to get them into history and geography. Let’s talk about how we can get kids excited about social studies learning.
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Get Your Child into Social Studies
Ask any parent which subjects in school they feel are the most important for their child, and you will seldom hear geography or history as a response. Because these subjects don’t seem to lead to any specific career pathway, and because they don’t teach “fundamentals” like math and language, social studies just doesn’t get the credit it deserves.
Social studies is a great introduction to real-life academic skills: mapping, environmental stewardship, politics, and economics are competencies that your kids use their entire adult lives. With a strong base of social studies learning, your child will see the interconnectedness of the world and be prepared to understand the societies they live in.
If you notice that your child’s interest in geography and history is low, or that their grades are less than stellar in those subject areas, it’s a good time to start getting them engaged in experiential learning. Experiential learning sounds more complex than it actually is: getting your kids into hands-on learning, asking questions about the world, and connecting real life with school learning are just a few tactics.
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Start with your own community. Model inquiry by asking questions about the people in your community, the languages spoken, and compare your neighbourhood to what it was like 50 years ago. What can we learn about our surroundings just by looking around? How old are the homes and buildings? Asking the simplest of questions can spark a research project that will make social studies real and relevant to them.
Find out the best ways to support your child in geography.
Focus on Geography
Geography is endlessly fascinating: turn on a map app while driving your kids around, and they will constantly compare their location and the roads to what they see on the map. Geography is a great starting point for getting kids into social studies: landforms and physical features of the world are everywhere. Take your child to see whatever is local to your region: mountains, escarpment, hills, rivers, plains, and forests - and help them to understand or inquire about why everything looks the way it does.
Supporting your child’s study of geography will bring out so many positive outcomes, like helping them to be more aware of our fragile environment, natural disasters, pollution, industry, fair trade, and human rights. Helping your child see the significance of geography can lead them to a career in engineering, environmental policy, academia, meteorology, natural resources, and technology.
Through a study of geography, your child will apply their literacy skills to research and read information about geographical concepts, write reports, explore digital maps, and interpret infographics. Math skills are also used in geography as students learn concepts like latitude, longitude, and how to identify coordinates on a map. The skills your child learns in geography relate directly to the world they live in and can be used almost immediately.
Hire a Social Studies Tutor
A tutor is a convenient way to get yourself or your child thinking about history and geography. Finding a tutor with a background or passion for social studies can support learning in a powerful way: a tutor can explain complex concepts, or help them in their research projects. A social studies tutor can also assist in other subjects, such as math, science and language, making it a great solution for other learning challenges.
Another great advantage of a tutor is that they can meet you or your child virtually or in-person at a time that is convenient for your schedule. Sites like Superprof have listings for tutors near you - check out the Superprof site today!
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