Ask most Canadian parents about which subjects they feel are the most important for their child to learn, and you will seldom hear “social studies'' as an answer. Why? Social studies is typically viewed as a lower priority subject as it doesn’t seem to lead directly to any career pathway, and is perhaps misunderstood.
Social studies is one of the most important subjects your child can learn; however, most parents overlook it as they place more importance on foundational subjects like math or language. And while those core subjects are indeed critical to success in any subject, social studies is a subject that truly stands on its own for its potential to teach your child everything from climate change to anti-racism and human rights.
What is Social Studies? Social studies is the study of various aspects of human society: in schools, it is broadly categorized into the areas of geography and history. Social studies is also an interdisciplinary subject, meaning it connects other subjects like math and language. Students use multiple areas of skills to learn social studies: math and visual arts skills are applied as students create maps, charts, and other visuals; language and media literacy skills are used to read, decode, and interpret texts, articles, videos and infographics.
Learn more about social studies learning for adults and kids.
Learning for the Real World
When it comes to real-life skills, few other subjects will prepare your kids for the world than social studies. Learning mapping skills, environmental stewardship, complex social issues, politics and how economies work are 21st century competencies your child will use throughout their entire adult lives. With a comprehensive understanding of social studies and strong learning skills in the humanities, your child will see how interconnected the world is and become a global citizen well-equipped to handle the world.
If you are noticing that your child’s interest in social studies is low, or that their grades are not so stellar in the subject, it’s a good time to start engaging them with the subject areas. Let’s explore some ways to get kids more engaged in social studies learning.
Focus on Experiential Learning
Experiential learning sounds complex but is something you can engage with easily with your child to get them excited about learning. Essentially, experiential learning is all about getting hands-on with learners, taking an inquiry stance, and connecting real world experiences with in-class learning. One of the easiest ways to get your kid into history and geography is to enable them to experience the learning so they see how relevant it is in their immediate surroundings. You will rarely ever find a place that doesn’t have an interesting geographical feature, a fascinating historical background, or both.
Start with your home. Model the inquiry process by asking questions about your community: who lives here? What are most people’s backgrounds? What languages do we hear? What was our neighbourhood like 100, or 200 years ago? Where do people work, and what kind of businesses are common? What can we learn about our surroundings by looking around? In many cases, you can investigate the answers through a quick Google search, but look for answers in your immediate surroundings with your child as well and the learning will become real.
If you have older kids, why not enable them to experience social studies through volunteering or community work? Environmental groups that clean up the community, historical societies, community gardening, and food banks are a great place to start, and are available nearly everywhere. High school kids will get their required volunteer hours and important work and life experience: so there’s plenty of incentive to do the work.
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Watch, Listen or Read the News
It might sound overly simple but another way to support your kids’ social studies learning is to watch, listen, or read the news. The news - economic, environmental, community, world, or national - is an exciting resource that changes by the minute. As you consume the news with your child, explain to them how the news impacts your family, your community, and Canada as a whole. Why are forest fires happening? Why does a homelessness crisis exist? Which political parties are in power, and why? A daily news cycle can lead to so many inquiries and questions you and your child can research together.
When you pay attention to the news with your child, they will develop a stronger sense of citizenship both nationally and globally. Your child will grow up with a deeper understanding of the world, and make connections with what they are learning in school. On top of that, listening, watching, or reading the news (or all three!) can enhance their listening and media literacy skills.
Get into a regular news habit with your family by making it part of your daily routine: listen to news radio or a podcast in the car while you are driving to school, camp, music lessons, or wherever it is your family goes on the weekend. Watch the news after dinner, discuss news headlines at the dinner table, or visit sites like Newsela that put the news in kid-friendly language.
Visit a Museum
Looking to change up the weekend routine a bit? Why not visit a local museum or gallery in your community? Museums have vast troves of information your children can learn from, along with visual exhibits to look at and examine. Depending on the exhibits and installations available, your child can learn all about how people lived in ancient times and throughout history, from the kinds of clothes they wore to the way societies were organized.
In many cases, museums will offer special events and programs for kids where they can do archaeological ‘digs’ or simply interpret a historical period through art. Take advantage of all the activities, and keep a guide handy so you can navigate the areas that interest you most. Museums are typically quite large and expansive so try to focus on one area at a time. If possible, get an annual pass so you can visit multiple times and see special exhibits; alternatively, it can be fun to just wander around and explore!
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Hit the Bookstore
Another easy way to expose your kids to social studies is to visit your local bookstore. Visit the kids section to check out their selection of kids history or geography books: National Geographic and Usborne publish amazing books of facts for kids that have great visuals and charts for learning. Check out magazines, games, fact cards, and workbooks with a social studies theme and your kids will have activities to last over many weekends.
Find a Social Studies Tutor
Another way to support your child’s social studies learning is to hire a tutor. Private tutors in history and geography are well versed and knowledgeable in the subject, and are typically passionate about the subject matter. They can support your kids in planning assignments, reports, or simply guide them through their areas of interest or your province’s curriculum.
Social studies tutors can meet your child at a convenient location or over the internet, making it a cost-effective way to support learning. You can find social studies tutors near you on sites like Superprof: start your search today!
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