The Evolution of our Social Studies Curricula in the Elementary School

If you were in elementary school fifty years ago your social studies  lessons consisted of memorizing dates of historical importance.  In addition to that, you were expected to locate the continents on large faded wall maps which were hung up in the back of the room.  Luckily those days are gone!  We now teach our students the understanding of relevant events in our history.  In the study of these events, we learn about the actual people who took part in creating our country and how they lived.

When teaching about the Revolutionary war, many teachers have  the students take part in role playing exercises. Several children would represent King George and the Loyalists, while the other children were the Patriots fighting for independence.  Both groups had to know their facts as they debated their side of the argument.  These lessons were always animated and exciting to watch.

Researching facts about important figures during the Revolutionary War led to enjoyable lessons.  The students would learn about Benjamin Franklin and his inventions and would share their hands on diorama of a scene in Franklin’s life.  There would be dioramas displayed in showcases in the library and in the classroom of Thomas Jefferson as he wrote the Declaration of Independence.  Presenting information about women in American history was not done fifty years ago.  Today our children know that Sybil Ludington was a 16 year old girl who was known as the female Paul Revere as she yelled out, “The British are burning Danbury.” and she rallied the minute men to protect Danbury.

Today  the culture of Native American Indians is  included in our curriculum.  Their reverence for the land is studied in books such as “Brother Eagle Sister Sky.”  The terrible “Trail of Tears” is also studied, and followed by more animated discussions on the pros and cons  of the westward expansion movement.

Our curriculum now includes many lessons about the Underground Railroad and its importance in the freeing of slaves. We would pretend we were slaves following Harriet Tubman as she led each person to the stations on the Underground Railroad.  The students could better understand the dangers involved in leading over 300 slaves to freedom when they were acting the part of Harriet Tubman and the slaves fleeing for their freedom.

The present day student has a finer understanding of our history through the hands on lessons, the debates and role playing activities, and the study of real life Americans.  These lessons will remain with them far longer than the memorization of dates.