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Talking to Your Fifth-Grader about Social Studies

  • Watch the television news together on occasion. Let the events on the news -- human interest stories, hurricanes, elections, and the peoples and circumstances of other countries -- become a basis for conversation. You might also watch documentaries about historical figures with your child; biography is a good basis for helping children learn about history. Such documentaries are becoming more common, especially on public television and certain cable networks. Documentary programs are also available on videocassette and can be checked out of libraries and rented from many video stores.
  • Children in intermediate grades will notice and ask about the problems that they see around them: homelessness drugs, and conflict. It is good to talk about these issues. Ask your child whether he or she is discussing such topics in school. Does your child have unanswered questions?
  • Look at photographs together. Family pictures showing you and your child at different ages are a good choice. Ask, "What can you remember about these earlier times? What is different now?" You will find that your child will not tire of looking at pictures of family members.
  • Ask your child about how we know the actual shape of North America, South America, and the other countries. This is a way to see what your child understands about mapmaking, and it also offers an opportunity to discuss and examine maps and satellite photos of the earth.
  • Using a map of the United States, discuss each region: its topography, its largest cities, its industries or economic activity, its population demographics, the historical events that happened there, and so on. You might start with a region where your family has lived in the past, or where a relative or friend lives, and then branch out into other regions.
  • Have your child place various events into chronological order. Try the following events: the voyages of Christopher Columbus, the Mayflower Compact, the establishment of Jamestown Colony by the British, the Norse exploration of North America, and the development of Native American societies.
  • The era of European exploration -- roughly the 15th through 18th centuries -- fascinates children. You and your child can discuss many questions related to this era: Why were the European governments so interested in exploring the world? What was Columbus's purpose in sailing west across the Atlantic Ocean? What did people know about the world when Columbus set sail? Why has Columbus become so controversial?
  • Children study the American colonies in considerable detail in the fifth grade. There are many ways to get your child to share what he or she is learning. You might inquire, "How much religious freedom did the Massachusetts Puritans allow? Why did they take the position they took on religious freedom? What were some of the differences between the colonies? Why did slavery take hold in the Americas? What have you learned about the Middle Passage?
  • The American Revolution is covered in fifth-grade social studies. See whether your child knows why some colonists were opposed to the revolution and remained loyal to Britain.
Reprinted from 101 Educational Conversations with Your 5th Grader by Vito Perrone, published by Chelsea House Publishers.
Copyright 1994 by Chelsea House Publishers, a division of Main Line Book Co. All rights reserved.

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