We can begin teaching kids about human society, how we establish rules for common understanding and order, how we share ideas and culture, and significant figures in our history, at an early age. There are so many components included in the domain of social studies that each year you can cover new material with your students.
From anthropology and economics to political science and geography, there are so many worlds to discover. We have 20 of the best activities for you to open your kid's eyes to all of it!
1. Civil War Snacks
These biscuit cookies are called "hardtacks" and are said to have been the go-to snack for people who lived in the 19th century. As a part of teaching the Civil War in your historical social studies unit, incorporate some food culture to help your kids taste what it was like to live back then.
Learn more: Education.com
2. Learning Taxes With M&M's
This fun activity is a great hands-on introduction to taxes for elementary grade students just beginning to handle their own money. Distribute snack packs of M&M's to each student and give roles: the tax collector, the King, the Parliament representative, to 3 students. Take candies away for various things (blue socks, erasers, crossing your legs), explain the process of wages and taxes, and who it goes to.
Learn more: Upper Elementary Snapshots
3. Native American Dreamcatchers
Indigenous people are a huge part of America's history, they have many traditions and customs that can teach your students to have respect for people of all heritages. These dreamcatcher crafts will make your fun history lessons utilize motor skills and are a great decoration for your classroom walls.
Learn more: Art Bar Blog
4. Reading the Stars
Time to bring history to life with this DIY constellation hands-on activity that teaches students how many African Americans were able to navigate and travel the underground railroad while en-route to freedom during the 18th and 19th centuries in America. You'll need a hole punch, black card stock, and a flashlight.
Learn more: Everyday Reading
5. DIY George Washington Wig
We cover historical figures in our social studies lessons teaching about the life of colonists in the initial 13 colonies. Wigs were a sign of class and power during this time with white wigs reserved for only the most prominent figures. George Washington had the signature white wig we all imagine, so let's recreate it using a paper bag, cotton balls, and ribbon.
Learn more: Deceptively Educational
6. Flower Press Like an Explorer
When explorers first came to the New World they had a lot to record and send back so people in Europe knew what kind of plants and animals were across the ocean. A fun class book to make with your students is a flower press album. Go outside with your kids and have them pick some flowers, then press and save them for future observations.
Learn more: Magical Movement Company
7. Dictator for a Day
This engaging lesson can be used in the social studies curriculum covering different forms of government. Pick one student to be a dictator and have he/she establish their own rules for the country. Explain how freedoms such as religion and speech are hindered and the lack of fairness this type of government provides for its citizens.
Learn more: Study.com
8. Mystery Skype
Geography is another domain of social studies and learning how to differentiate between attributes of states, countries, time zones, is a useful skill for student understanding. There are platforms set up that can connect your skype to another classroom somewhere else in the U.S. and even around the world! Brainstorm questions with your students ahead of time so they know what to ask to find out where they are. Explore more geography activities here.
9. Voting Knowledge via Online Game
iCivics is an online gaming platform designed to teach students useful knowledge about how the United States government functions and their roles in it. This online game is great for high school or middle school students to learn how to become informed voters and how they can participate in our democracy. Get more ideas for teaching the presidential election process here.
Learn more: iCivics.org
10. Analysing and Drawing Political Cartoons
There are so many great examples of political cartoons over U.S. history that teach students how certain events and beliefs are presented to persuade readers. Pick some influential political cartoons from the past and have an open discussion regarding what opinions they are expressing and the intentions of the people who created them.
Learn more: Social Studies Blog
11. Historical Role Play
Let's get into character with this simple improvisation activity of historical figures. Write down names of influential people of the past and put them in a hat for your students to pick from. Give them a few days to research their person and make a presentation in front of the class.
Learn more: Edutopia
12. Immigration Stories
There is a lot to cover in your immigration unit for the U.S. since it is a country of immigrants. Explain the histories and reasons why different groups of people immigrate, why they want to leave their home country, and the processes they go through to assimilate to their new country. There are many educational books out there written by immigrants to read for engaging class discussions.
Learn more: Population Education
13. Current Events for Kids
It can be challenging to explain a current event to a young learner in a way they can understand. Kidworldcitizen.org is a website with resources and articles written for kids with simple words and without biases found in other sources. Pick a few articles and read them in your next social studies class.
Learn more: Kid World Citizen
14. Economics Cheat Sheet
Economics begins to emerge in our elementary classrooms, and it's best to start with the basics. Help your students understand how the economy works and affects their daily life with this visual explanation. Have your students create their own to put on the classroom walls.
Learn more: Pinterest
15. Religions Around the World
There are so many different religions and belief systems in our world, and it's important we teach our young learners to respect their customs and traditions. Challenge students to pick a religion they don't know about and do research as a group to learn more and share.
Learn more: Education World
16. Culture Boxes
Assign each student a culture and ask them to fill a cardboard box with items, images, foods, clothing, etc. that encapsulate the society to share with the class.
Learn more: Living Montessori Now
17. Traveler IQ Challenge
This online geography game tests your students' social studies skills regarding map reading, locating states in the U.S., country capitals, and more! Play it with the whole class or assign kids to play at home.
Learn more: Crazy Games
18. Archaeology Puzzle
This reconstruction project can be a fun family activity to introduce archaeology to your kids in a hands-on and engaging way. Get a clay pot, break it into pieces, and hide the pieces in the sand or dirt for your kids to dig up. Then help them clean the parts and piece the pot together. You can add symbols or words on the pot to reveal a message once it's reconstructed for an added bonus!
Learn more: Tikkido
19. Our Class Constitution
Have your students participate in a democracy by having them help you write your class's constitution.
Learn more: Pinterest
20. Then and Now Sorting Game
Print or make your own flashcards with images of old objects we used in the past and their updated/modern versions. Show students the progressions we've made as humans and what that means for our future.
Learn more: What I Have Learned Teaching