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Talking to Your Fourth-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 events 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.
  • Children in intermediate grades will notice and ask about the problems that they see around them: homelessness drugs, 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.
  • Using a magazine such as National Geographic or photos from the newspaper or newsmagazines, see what your child knows about the relationships between where people live and how they live. For example, you might ask, "Why do you suppose people in certain parts of Queensland, Australia, build their houses on stilts?" (Because they live in a rain forest environment with lots of water and occasional floods.)
  • Ask what your child thinks it might have been like to live in different historical periods.
  • What countries does your child know about? Can your child find these countries on a globe or map? Discuss different countries together, perhaps reading about them in a magazine article or an encyclopedia.
  • Look at a bus or train schedule together. Does your child understand how it is organized? Can he or she make use of it?
  • Children celebrate a variety of holidays in school. President's Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day, and in some settings Cinco de Mayo receive the most attention. These celebrations are good opportunities to ask your child what he or she has learned about the presidents, Martin Luther King, Jr., and various national traditions; your child's awareness should be expanding each year.
  • Ask your child to share with you what he or she has learned about different ethnic and cultural groups in and around your community. What has your child learned about African Americans, Hispanics, Vietnamese, and Cambodians? Is your child reading books and stories by or about members of these groups?
  • Your child will be learning about the Native American peoples. See what Native American cultures your child has studied. Does he or she know about the Mayas? Ask how we know about the life of the American Indians before the Europeans came.
Reprinted from 101 Educational Conversations with Your 4th 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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