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Learning About Our World: Social Studies, History, Geography, Cultural Studies and Government in the Home School Setting

Some educators have described social studies as the "heart of education". This means that as a child learns more about the world that they live in through studying history, geography, cultural studies and government, they will come to better understand their place in the world and their relationship to the people and environment around them. While in many locations the social studies curriculum is covered under the standards that all students must meet, there are many different methods that teachers and home schoolers can use in a social studies curriculum to present history, geography, cultural studies and government to their students. Social studies can be an exciting topic which involves the learner and challenges their ideas and thinking and takes them to a higher intellectual level.

In order to make social studies come alive for students it is necessary to get beyond the simple facts, figures, names and dates. The more that you can take your students back in history, exploring distant lands for geography, seeing the world through another's eyes in cultural studies, and finding their voice in government, the more that you will have a positive impact in the social studies curriculum area. There are many social studies resources that are available to teachers and students online, in all-in-one curriculum programs and in Unit studies programs as well as single subject curriculum packets. Here are some ideas for activities and curriculum in history, geography, cultural studies and government:

History: The study of history as a general subject for social studies usually does not begin in the primary grades-although many children in the primary grades learn about historical figures such as Christopher Columbus. But, in later grades children may be required to learn about world or national history, or even ancient history. Here are some activities that can be incorporated into a social studies/history curriculum: 

- Read literature about or from the time period-both historical fiction and nonfiction. Have a discussion about the book and compare it with other literature that is available for this time in history.

- Make a newspaper page for the time period, including ads and human interest stories.

- Listen to music and look at art from the time period. Students may even want to write a play.  This brings history easily to other curriculum areas.

- Role-playing is a great way to "live" history. Have students imagine they live back in time and give them roles to play. Incorporate economy, class-structure, employment, and other factors for each character based on the history of the time period.

- Put together a time capsule and bury it with instructions on where it is and when it is to be opened. Include items which will tell about the history of our time.

Geography: Although geography is not always considered one of the more exciting social studies topics it can be both fun and exciting. The key is to approach this social studies subject in a hands-on manner. A study of the geography in your local area can be interesting-especially if it is done with field trips. Many times the geography of the area also plays a role in the history and culture of the area-so this is also easy to tie in to other social studies curriculum areas.  Here are some ideas to make this area of social studies come alive for your students:

- Go on a field trip to study an unusual land form or other geography feature in your area. These might include things like a plateau, a mountain, a river, or even a rock formation.

- Draw a map of your area, or create your own map of an imaginary location.

- Start a rock collection. Label the rocks a group them in categories of your own choosing.

- Do an in-depth study of a volcano or other catastrophic natural geography event. Find out what the repercussions of the event were-loss of life, change in the climate, change in the land form, etc. Make a model of the land form and show the changes.

- Do scientific experiments to show how clouds form, how earthquakes occur, etc. This is a great way to combine science with geography.

Cultural Studies: Cultural studies can be a really fun area for students as well as teachers. You can study both ancient and modern culture in a cultural studies program. As students learn more about other cultures, it can help them to be more tolerant and understanding of people that are different from themselves.- Although it is most likely that it is not possible to travel the world for a cultural studies curriculum, the internet and media as well as books can give students a better idea about the world around them.

- Create a travel brochure or travel guide for the area you are studying-this can be done for modern or ancient cultural studies.

- Make a meal from the culture or country that you are studying.

- Team up with other home school students or classes and have a cultural studies fair with booths from different areas.

- Invite people from other cultures to come into your class or home and interview them about their culture and the differences and similarities between it and your own.

- Study art, music and literature from the culture.

Government: Most students do not go into this social studies topic until the upper grades (at least out of the primary grades.) It is important that all individuals understand the government where they live. This helps them to be an active participant in the government processes. Students should know about a citizen's rights and responsibilities in the government where they live. Here are some ideas for this social studies area:

- Write to a government official asking questions about their role.

- Design a home or family government and have a mock election for a position in your home school or family (i.e. activity coordinator, etc.)

- Study current events for the area in which you live and create a scrapbook of related articles. Find opposing points of view if possible.

- Study how your country is perceived by other countries.

- Coordinate with other groups and have a role-playing exercise with interaction between countries. Talk about trade, allocation of resources, interaction between each government etc.

- Write a letter to the newspaper editor about an issue in government that concerns you.

- Visit your local government offices and see how business is conducted.

-Social studies are one of the most important subjects of any curriculum and it can be exciting and fun.
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