Parents' Place

Helping Your Child Learn Social Studies: Grade 5

This year your child will study how Europeans and other immigrants explored, settled, and developed the Americas, and will learn about the Indian civilizations that met the explorers. He or she will discover how the new country of the United States emerged from this process of exploration and settlement. Your child will also come to understand how this new nation was created by the blending of cultures and ideas from around the world.

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

Exploring geography

  • Help your child see that geography still determines many of our activities. Living near a lake or river, mountains, farms, a desert, or a forest affects what we do. Together, make a list of common leisure activities done in your region, such as fishing, skiing, swimming, farming, do-it-yourself fruit picking, or sledding. Then make another list of activities you can't do because of the geography of where you live.
  • Make a list of five places outside of your community that were mentioned in the newspaper, or on television or radio. Using a globe or flat map of the country or the world, work with your child to locate as many of these places as you can.
  • Talk with your child about ways that the environment in your community has been affected or altered by people. Have highways or bridges been built, waterways dammed, mountains tunneled, landfills created, canals dug? Discuss the ways in which these changes have benefited and/or caused problems.

Understanding and evaluating historical events

  • Choose an event, either local, national, or international, and work with your child to follow the story for a week or two. Compare how different media—newspapers, magazines, television, and radio—present the story. How do those differences affect your understanding of the event?

Native Americans in the New World

  • With your child, learn more about the Native Americans who lived in your area before the Europeans arrived. Find a book in the library or visit a local museum exhibit. What were these people called? How long did they live in your area? Did they hunt or farm or both? What did their homes look like? Do their descendants still live in the area?
  • With your child, look for books in the library that show the cliff dwellings of the Anasazi and discuss how they lived. Have your child compare the Anasazi way of life with that of the Iroquois.

European exploration and settlement

  • Discuss the explorations of Cortés, Cabrillo, and Drake. Encourage your child to read a book about one or more of these explorers. Talk about the experiences they had, the routes they traveled, and the dangers they faced. Help your child determine what skills an explorer had to have long ago.
  • Ask your child to look for stories in the news about new areas of exploration, such as space, the ocean, the human body, medicine, etc. Ask him or her to compare this kind of exploration with the exploration of the New World. Are there similar concerns about money and time? Are there similar promises of great benefits?
  • Play a game with your child in which the two of you are colonists moving to settle Mars. What items will you bring with you from home? What are you looking forward to? What are you concerned about? In what ways will you need to work with other colonists?

The New England, Middle and Southern colonies

  • Trade with other countries supported many New England colonists and even made a few of them wealthy. Together with your child, find items in your household that are part of our international trade today, or look through newspapers or magazines for references to trade with other countries.
  • Play a map game with your child. Call out one of the following names of a city or town in the colonies and have your son or daughter locate it on a map of the Eastern United States. Places to find: Boston, Rhode Island, Virginia, Massachusetts Bay, Jamestown, and Roanoke.
  • In addition to the settlement in Jamestown, Virginia, European colonists also established a colony on Roanoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina. That colony and all of its inhabitants mysteriously disappeared. Use the library to help your child investigate this disappearance and talk about what may have happened.

The Revolutionary War and the creation of a new nation

  • In school, your child will be introduced to the art and significance of political cartoons. For a week or two, collect political cartoons from the newspaper. The cartoons may satirize local or national issues and personalities. Discuss the focus of each cartoon with your child, and talk about the issue it addresses.
  • Make a list of all the goods and services your local and federal tax dollars help provide. Discuss with your child how taxes affect the quality of life. What would your community be like without these goods and services? What would the quality of your life be like?
  • Several movies and television shows have been made about the Revolutionary War, including a television miniseries on the life of George Washington. Rent one of these and watch it with your child. Ask him or her to tell how it is similar and different from what he or she has learned about the War.
  • After achieving independence from Britain, the new U.S. citizens worked to become uniquely American. Help your child make a list of holidays, celebrations, traditions, and ideals that are especially American. Discuss how these examples of Americana help to foster pride and unity.

Everyday life in the new nation

  • First, work with your child to make a list of daily activities done by children in the early 1800s. Each of you then makes a list of your daily activities for one weekday and one weekend day. Your child's list will be what he or she does now; your list will be what you did when you were your child's age. Exchange lists, and compare. Lastly, compare all three lists, discussing the similarities and differences.
  • To better understand the motives of utopian reforms, work with your child to plan a utopian community. Talk over what ideals it would be founded on and would encourage, where it would be located, how it would be organized, and how decisions would be made.

Frontier life and the settling of the West

  • 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.

The Civil War and Reconstruction

  • Help your child keep a list of compromises made with adults over a one-week period. Often, these will be minor issues on which agreement is easy. Talk over how compromises become more difficult as the issues become more important. Connect this activity with efforts to find a compromise between slave and free states before the Civil War.
  • With your child, look at a map showing the division of free and slave states set up by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. Ask him or her to determine if where you live was—according to this division—a free state, a slave state, or a territory.
  • Find a news account of a civil war currently occurring in the world. Help your child identify the main issue or issues dividing the participants.
  • Watch a movie or television videotape about the Civil War with your child. Ask him or her to say how it portrays the issues, and discuss. Is it balanced or one-sided? Is it accurate or exaggerated?
  • The process to secure freedom and equality for African Americans, which began before the Civil War, continues today. Have your child look for newspaper and magazine articles that describe current issues and developments in the Civil Rights Movement.

Immigrants make the United States diverse

  • Help your child understand the rich diversity brought to our country by Eastern and Southern European immigrants. Ask him or her to point out foods in the grocery store, such as pirogi or spaghetti, or feta cheese, that come from these countries.
  • With your child, make a list of the different types of people who live in your community. Talk about how their presence is expressed in your community (stores, restaurants, languages spoken or displayed in public places, specific ways of dressing, holidays celebrated, etc.).
  • Take turns thinking of a favorite food, and then identifying which ethnic group first brought it to the United States. If possible, arrange to have a meal at an ethnic restaurant or prepare some ethnic food at home.
  • Walk with your child through your community and look for examples of immigrant influence on what you see. Look for such things as street names, churches, and foods suggesting different cultures.

Life in a changing America

  • In school, your child will learn how changes, such as the growth of factories, brought both progress and problems. Discuss with him or her the benefits and problems associated with things we use everyday. For example, wrapping food in plastic can keep it fresh, but after the plastic is discarded, it becomes a waste disposal problem. Work to come up with three such items, and talk about the pros and cons of each.
  • 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 services were stopped. How could the community make decisions that affected everyone?

Houghton Mifflin