Parents' Place

Helping Your Child Learn Social Studies: Grade 4

This year your child will learn about the regions of the United States and how physical features and resources affected their growth and development. How people discovered, explored, settled, and used the land in each region will also be explored. Your child will explore the economic, political, industrial, and social changes within each region and across the country. He or she will come to understand how developments in transportation and communication have brought people in our country closer together.

Here are some everyday activities you can do with your child to help promote interest in social studies.

Regions of the United States

  • Work with your child to draw a representative scene from each region of the United States. Examples of such scenes: a picture of a famous geographical landform, such as a mountain or lake, an animal, or some form of vegetation that the region is noted for. Have your child label each region drawn, and display the drawing.
  • Visit a library together to find copies of newspapers from different regions. Encourage your child to notice differences in wording or language between different regions. Then look for clues about different regional styles of clothing and architecture in the photographs.
  • Play a map game with your child. Locate a map that shows the regions of the United States or write the name of each region (Northeast, South, Midwest, West) on pieces of paper and place them on a map of the United States. Call out the name of a state and have your child tell you which region it is in.

The Northeast

  • Play a game of “What Would You Trade?” with your child. Divide certain choices and responsibilities between you. For example, you might choose responsibility for certain chores, the choice of the menu of a special meal, control of the television for a set period of time, or the choice of a special event. Then trade these items, discussing at the end of each trade the fairness of the transaction.
  • Working together, find information about the development of canals or railroads. You can find books in the library, or, if you live in the Northeast, a local historical society may have more information. Discuss with your child the impact these transportation systems had on the development of this region.
  • Play a game of “Family Archaeologist” with your child. First, choose three items from your home that represent some aspect of your life and experiences. Your child then pretends to be an archaeologist from the future and carefully examines each item. What understanding of Americans in the early twenty-first century can he or she get from these items? What can be learned about this specific family or individual? After discussing, switch roles and have your child choose three items that represent some aspect of his or her life for you to examine.
  • Review with your child some city or town services you depend upon—water, sewer, garbage pick-up, library, police protection, etc. Talk about the problems that would result if any or all of these service were stopped. How could the community make decisions that affected everyone?

The South

  • Increase your child's awareness of the many kinds of fruits and vegetables that come from the South. Look for identifying signs or ask grocers at your local supermarket to identify the produce from the South.
  • Encourage your child to research a southern city such as Charleston, South Carolina; or New Orleans, Louisiana. Have him or her find out how the city was founded and how it has changed over the years.
  • Discuss with your child the impact that a civil war can have on a nation. Read articles in current newspapers that tell about modern civil wars. Help your child understand the problems created by these wars for a nation's citizens, as well as for people of other nations.
  • Encourage your child to read a book to learn more about an individual who contributed to the development of the South, such as John Rolfe, Eli Whitney, George Washington Carver, John L. Lewis, and Mary “Mother” Jones.
  • Point out to your child newspaper or magazine articles about the Southern textile industry. Encourage him or her to understand the competition workers face from foreign textile importers. Have your child check the labels in his or her own clothing to find out where it was made and where the fabrics came from. How many pieces of the clothing come from the United States and how many from other countries?

The Midwest

  • Look at pictures of a modern farm with your child in a book or magazine. Point out advances in technology over the past one hundred years, such as motorized tractors and harvesting equipment. Help your child understand that much of the modern farm's machinery was not available in the 1800s and early 1900s. Talk about the changes in farming this equipment has brought about.
  • Use an almanac to help your child compile information about the current status of agriculture in the Midwest. Determine the kind and quantities of crops produced throughout the Midwest. Then compare these figures with those of other regions of the United States.
  • Together, look at pictures of early settlements in the Midwest. Take turns pointing out the tools people used to farm the land and the materials they used to build shelters. Talk about what these items tell you about early farm and ranch life.
  • If possible, visit a museum which has early automobiles, attend an antique auto show, or look at pictures of early automobiles with your child. Ask your child to point out any differences between early autos and today's autos. Make it a game to find as many as possible.
  • Encourage your child to learn more about someone who has made a significant contribution to innovations in agriculture or industry, such as John Deere, Cyrus McCormick, William Dempster Hoard, Charles Pillsbury, Gustavus Swift, or Henry Ford.

The West

  • Native Americans experienced dramatic changes during the early settlement of the West. Encourage your child to choose one group of Native Americans from this region and learn more how this group lived before Europeans arrived. Then locate articles in present-day newspapers and magazines that tell about how this group lives today.
  • Discuss with your child what might happen if gold (or some other valuable item) was discovered in your neighborhood park today, and everyone had access to it. How would people in your community react? What problems might that create?
  • Look through a book of John Muir's photographs of nature with your child. Find photos that show the different natural resources of the West. Talk about the diversity and importance of such resources.
  • Encourage your child to read a book about a major West Coast earthquake such as San Francisco's in 1906, or some other, more recent event. Discuss the powerful impact of the event and how people helped each other afterwards.
  • Encourage your child to read a book about the building of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads. Talk about it. How long did it take? How many people were involved? What kinds of hardships did they endure? What were the benefits?
  • Read a book (such as Jack London's short stories of the West) or watch a movie together about settlers moving west. Talk about the different reasons people moved west and some of their different experiences.
  • Pretend your family is about to begin a journey from east to west on the first transcontinental railroad. Ask your child what he or she would expect the ride to be like. Together, make a list of what the family will need to take with them.

Linking the Regions

  • Encourage your child to ask older family members or friends, or read a book about automobile travel—especially cross-country travel—in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Encourage your child to identify differences and similarities between automobile travel then and now.
  • Discuss with your child why railroads may have declined in importance in this nation since the 1800s. Identify and talk about the alternatives available today for travelers or people who are shipping goods.
  • Have your child interview family members, friends, or neighbors about the effect of modern conveniences. Each person should identify one item that he or she uses today that was not available when he or she was a child. Have your child keep a list. Are any items mentioned more than once?
  • Talk with your child about conservation efforts in your region and in the country. What are some of these efforts? Does your community recycle, have ways to conserve water, or work to improve air quality? How can these activities have an impact on our lives?
  • With your child, identify and follow news reports of an environmental problem created when the needs of different regions conflict. For example, factories in the Midwest burn certain fuels for energy which then cause acid rain in the Northeast. Discuss with your child how regions are trying to work out problems like these.

Global Connections

  • Help your child understand how Americans rely on people all over the country and the world for a variety of items such as food and clothing. Find out which locally grown foods or locally manufactured products are distributed to other parts of the country and the world.
  • Share stories of the immigration of your family or other people you know. Talk about the ways in which immigrants traveled to the United States, such as the kinds of transportation they took and the conditions under which they traveled.
  • Share memories of a time in your life when you had to adjust to new surroundings such as a new home, a new school, or a new job. Explain ways in which the changes challenged and presented new opportunities for you. What people helped you adjust and how? Discuss with your child ways in which he or she could help newcomers to the school or the neighborhood.
  • Walk around your neighborhood or a nearby town with your child. Look for evidence of the daily life of the United States' many minority groups. Such evidence could include hearing non-English languages; finding restaurants and food stores which serve different foods; or seeing street signs or advertising in other languages or aimed at a specific group.
  • With your child, follow news coverage of an international environmental issue, such as water needs, air pollution, recycling, or an endangered species. Point out the different points of view expressed and discuss how people are working to solve the problem.

Houghton Mifflin