You might think of social studies as a subject taught in high school, not preschool. But although preschool curriculum does not include typical "social studies" subjects such as history and sociology, social studies permeate the preschool classroom, from learning about holidays and jobs around town to exploring identity in terms of family and community. That means that even preschoolers can begin their social studies explorations as they examine themselves, their families and the community they live in.
Preschoolers are naturally curious and studying the world around them is second nature to them. “Very young children are focused on their own wants and needs, but as they grow older they become developmentally ready to begin forming relationships outside of their families and exploring the world around them,” says Tracy Edmunds, M.A., primary classroom teacher and author of Me and My World. “Social studies for young ones begins with the child and gradually expands their awareness of the world around them and their place in it to include the immediate family, extended family, neighborhood, and community. It helps them move beyond their natural egocentricity and begin to take on the perspective of others, becoming active participants in the larger world beyond the home.”
You can help your child gain important insights about himself and the world he lives in by trying a few of these fun social studies activities for preschoolers.
All About Me
- Have your child draw a self portrait and discuss what color hair and eyes he has. What color eyes and hair do other family members have? Have a discussion about how people are the same and different. Who is a boy and who is a girl?
- Help your child create a collage of his favorite things by cutting and gluing pictures out of old magazines or newspapers and drawing pictures. What is his favorite color? What does he like to eat, play with or do?
- Make a book about feelings. Staple several pieces of blank paper together, and on the bottom of each, write the phrase I feel happy when___________. Replace happy with different emotions such as sad, angry, scared and excited. Have your child tell you about something that makes him feel each feeling and fill in the sentence with his words. He can draw a picture to complete his own feelings book!
- Find these books at the library, or ask your librarian for some other recommendations: My Book About Me by Dr. Seuss (Random House, 1969) I Was So Mad by Mercer Mayer (Random House, 2000)
- Have a discussion about your family while drawing a family portrait or creating a book about your family. How many people are in your family? How many brothers and sisters? Do you know anyone else who has the same sized family?
- Look at photos of your extended family. Help your child identify his grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles.
- Discuss how families are the same and different. Some families are big, some are small. Some live with grandparents, step-parents, same-sex parents, and some are adopted. All families love each other!
- Read some books about families together. Try these suggestions and see if you can find some of your own: The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant (Live Oak Media, 2005) The Berenstain Bears' Family Reunion by Stan & Jan Berenstain (Harper Collins, 2009)
My Neighborhood and Community
- Talk about the community you live in. What is the name of the city you live in? Does your neighborhood have a name? Tell your child his address (although he may be too young to memorize it now, that will come soon).
- Who are the community helpers your child has a relationship with? Who are his doctors, dentists or teachers? Next time you go for a visit, have your child ask some questions about their jobs.
- What are some of the community helpers you see on a regular basis? See if you can arrange a tour of a local post office, fire station, library, grocery store, vet or dry cleaners. Ask questions about the job each person performs.
- Libraries have a wonderful collection of non-fiction books about community helpers. Non-fiction books include a variety of important features that fiction books do not contain: a table of contents and index, charts and graphs and photographs rather than illustrations. Pick up a few on your next trip to the library and point out some of these features while learning about community helpers, or check these fiction titles out at your local library: Franklin's Neighborhood by Paulette Bourgeois (Kids Can Press, Ltd. 1999) My Teacher Sleeps in School by Leatie Weiss (Puffin, 1985)
Let your child lead you on an exploration of his world through his natural curiosity. Focus your attention in these early years around the things your child has experiences with: himself, his family and his community. Have discussions, draw pictures, read books and learn about the community you live in through family field trips, and you will provide your child with wonderful social studies explorations to build upon!