Why You Should Teach Social Studies in Elementary School

Four reasons why elementary school teachers should teach social studies, despite our high-stakes testing culture.

By Mollie Moore

mount rushmore

When evaluations based on testing exclude social studies, why should an elementary school teacher spend time teaching it? When I was a fifth grade teacher, I will be the first to admit that social studies was not on the priority list with math, reading, and science.

A Lack of Knowledge

One day, during a novel discussion with my fifth grade reading group, I discovered that not a single student could identify the Founding Fathers, nor did they know when the Declaration of Independence was written. I asked for at least a ballpark timeframe, and was even more discouraged when the answers were 1850 and forward. These responses were coming from the second highest reading group in the school! So, if these kids were unaware about the origins of our country, that meant that a significant majority of the students in my school would not know either. I was shocked, to say the least.

Teaching a Non-Testing Subject

As teachers, we face so much pressure to make sure our students perform well on the standardized tests, many of which ignore social studies. So, why should I spend time on social studies? Here are four reasons why I decided to add social studies to my curriculum.

1. Background knowledge. When pupils read, they repeatedly encounter works that have a historical setting. Ignoring social studies decreases the amount of background knowledge your learners will have when they encounter these passages. This automatically means that readers will miss important details, which might be the key to their overall understanding of the book, a particular detail, or a theme.

2. Increased engagement in other subjects. Teachers know that if students can make a connection to something they already know, they will remember new information better. Pupils see references to history in math word problems, or in science with names/dates of famous scientists. Knowing historical facts will capture their attention and increase their engagement with that problem or activity.

3. Increases cultural sensitivity. Many times, children do not grasp the differences of others’ lives because they do not know the struggles or background of their ancestors or other people groups. Teaching social studies exposes them to various cultures, thus opening their eyes to their world, as well as the world around them. A basic understanding of the history of people groups can impact how they interact with people who are different from them. This may make them more likely to become more beneficial members of society both now and in the future.

4. Increases community involvement patriotism. Nationally, we are seeking to promote a sense of community and increase community involvement. In order to do this, each person must have a common bond and motivation. Without knowing our nation's struggles and the values upon which it was formed, future generations will not be able to appreciate principles and values of America. As pupils are exposed to our nation's history, they are likely to have an increased desire to be a contributing member of society. 

Discussion Question:

Why do you choose to teach social studies in elementary school? 

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