Social Studies Today (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010


To be meaningful, social studies content must match children’s intellectual growth. Meaningful teaching requires matching the richness of the learning environment to the intellectual growth of the child. The richness of an environment for intellectual growth is a function of the appropriateness of this match between inner organizations and external circumstances in a child’s succession of encounters with his or her environment. Vygotsky (1978) explained the importance of matching what is to be learned with the nature of children’s cognitive maturity: “It is a well known and empirically established fact that learning should be matched in some manner with the child’s developmental level”. Sue Bredekamp (1998) calls matching what one wants to teach children to their existing knowledge “teaching on the edge of children’s knowledge.”

Today, early childhood educators have increased their understanding of the problem of this match. The National Association for the Education of Young Children has published Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8 (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997) as well as Reaching Potentials in two volumes: Appropriate Curriculum and Assessment for Young Children (Bredekamp & Rosegrant, 1992) and Transforming Early Childhood and Assessment (Bredekamp & Rosegrant, 1995).

Recognizing that curriculum must match children’s maturation as well as the context in which they live, the National Council for the Social Studies does not specify scope, content, or sequence in its standards. These decisions, the council believes, are in the hands of those who teach social studies, the people who know the children and the world in which they live.

The search for matching content to a child’s intellectual development continues. By organizing the social science disciplines—skills, attitudes, and values—around key concepts or principles and then describing what we do know about how children grow in understanding these principles, teachers have an opportunity to plan ways of presenting social studies material and content that will have meaning because it will match children’s developmental level.

A measure of meaningfulness is guaranteed when teachers realize that children are very young and do have a long time to grow. Then social studies are conceptualized as an initial foundation of social and physical knowledge on which later logical knowledge will be built. The social sciences are meaningful when young children are not pushed to attain concepts beyond their intellectual reach. Learning is a much more complex and drawn out process than is generally acknowledged. The type of complex, meaningful learning that occurs in school and throughout the life span takes place over weeks, months, and years; and there is good reason to believe that the nature of the learning process changes as the tasks of mastering a complex body of knowledge unfold.

Of High Interest

Interested children learn. Interest leads to “meaningful learning, promotes long-term storage of knowledge, and provides motivation for further learning” (Hidi, 1990, p. 549). Whether studying history, geography, economics, current events, or cultures, children must find the material of high interest. It is their interest that motivates them to satisfy their curiosity about themselves and the world in which they live, promoting a sense of competence (Wigfield, 2002). At least three other factors stimulate children’s interest in social studies: firsthand learning, self-choice, and social interaction. All the social studies in this text begin with children’s firsthand interactions with their world. All of social studies teaching is grounded in children’s firsthand experiences, play, and spontaneous activity.

Child choice is encouraged. Through centers of interest, children can select their own learning experiences and activities. Children who are given choices—who initiate their own learning experiences and activities, choose the centers in which they will work, and then make choices within the centers—are more likely to succeed because the problem of match is at least partially solved (Seefeldt & Galper, 2000).

As social beings, children want to be with others and learn to relate ever-more effectively with them. Relating with others, children are exposed to different ways of thinking, knowing, and valuing—all of which lead to expanding cognitive powers (Pattnaik, 2003). Feeling competent socially and cognitively, children are fully motivated to want to continue to learn more about themselves, others, and the world in which they live (Stone, 2003).

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