Parents' Place

Helping Your Child Learn Social Studies: Grade 6

This year your child will learn about the origins and development of certain civilizations and religions. Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, China, the Middle East, Greece, and Rome will be studied, as well as Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, and Judaism. Your child will also examine how historians learn about the past, and how our distant ancestors developed tools, language, agriculture, and eventually, cities.

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

How historians learn about the past

  • If your local library has news magazines from the year your child was born, have him or her look through several to see how clothing, cars, and prices have changed since that year.
  • Working separately, you and your child each make a list of five objects you would put into a time capsule to show the main events of your lives. Then compare lists, telling each other why you choose each item and how it represents your life.
  • Watch a television program with your child that shows people interacting in a family, neighborhood, or work setting. Discuss the ways the program would be an accurate and inaccurate source of information for future historians.
  • Help your child set up interviews with three neighbors or family members who each remember the same historic event. It could be something famous like the first human landing on the moon, or some family event, like your child's birth. After the interviews, have your child describe the different ways each person remembered the event.
  • Archaeologists collect and study artifacts to find out about life in the past. If possible, visit a nearby museum and examine different artifacts. Have your child identify where these items came from, what they were used for, and how old they are.

How our distant ancestors developed tools, language, agriculture, and cities

  • If possible, go to a nearby museum with your child to look at exhibits of tools and artifacts made thousands of years ago. Museum guidebooks and display information should help explain how the tools were made, and what they suggest about the past. Discuss with your child.
  • Mobility was very important to hunters and gatherers. It is still an important component of some kinds of work today. Work with your child to develop a list of workers who are still mobile, such as farm workers, sales representatives, and professional athletes.
  • Complex civilizations depend on the creation of surplus goods so that people do not have to spend all their time gathering materials to survive. Work with your child to make a list of five items produced in your region that are surplus and sold to other regions, such as fish from the ocean, or milk from cows, or vegetables grown in large farms.

Mesopotamia and Egypt

  • A Mesopotamian ruler, Hammurabi, produced a famous written law code. Today our culture uses both written and unwritten rules to govern a range of issues. Help your child write down some of the unwritten rules of your household. An example would be: “At our house the last person to leave the table clears his place.” Or: “We do not watch television during meals.”
  • Encourage your child to read a book about Egyptian civilization or myths. Talk about something he or she learned that was most surprising or unexpected.
  • The civilizations of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt were each based on rivers. Use an atlas to play a game with your child in which he or she locates five major cities around the world that are also located on rivers. Some possible answers include: New York, London, Paris, Cairo, Tokyo, Beijing, and Hong Kong.
  • Ancient Egyptians used hieroglyphics, a system of writing that uses pictures to stand for ideas, words, or letters. Find a book that shows and translates Egyptian hieroglyphics, and work with your child to write a short letter to another family member using hieroglyphics.
  • Historians often evaluate the positive and negative aspects of past civilizations. Discuss with your child, or invite two or three other adults to discuss, what they consider to be the greatest achievements and the worst problems of the United States.

India and the development of Hinduism and Buddhism

  • With your child, follow stories about India in newspapers or radio or television news reports over the course of several days. Note any references to geographical features, and then locate these features on a map of India.
  • Buddhist teachings focus on how people should think and act. Work with your child to create a set of “Family Teachings” that lay down similar thoughts on how your family should think and act.
  • With your child, find five to seven photographs of different Hindu temples in a book or magazine. Make a list of where each temple is. What country on your list has the largest number of temples?
  • Mohandas Gandhi practiced civil disobedience to end British rule in India. He went on hunger strikes, organized boycotts and protests, and urged Indians not to pay certain taxes. With your child, look in newspapers or magazines to find examples of similar civil disobedience practiced today.

China and the development of Confucianism

  • Encourage your child to read a book about dragons in Chinese culture. Talk about what they mean, how they are shown visually, and what myths and stories are associated with them.
  • The Chinese ruler Qin worked to unify the many different groups in China into one nation by declaring one official form of written language, offering new opportunities in land ownership, and creating a bureaucracy based on training and supervision. Discuss the positive and negative aspects of each of these changes.
  • Follow with your child news stories about China for a week. What changes are happening in the Chinese culture and government? Encourage your child to discuss any ways these changes are connected with some aspect of China's history that he or she has recently learned.

The Middle East and the development of Judaism and Christianity

Several movies portray events in the early years of Judaism and Christianity. If possible, view one of these with your child. Discuss what life was like in the time period shown in the movie, and how accurate you both feel the movie was.

Ancient Greece

  • Encourage your child to read some Greek myths. Ask him or her to choose his or her favorite and retell it to you in his or her own words.
  • If possible, go to a Greek restaurant. Encourage your child to notice items on the menu that feature fish, lamb, and cheese made from goat's milk. Discuss why these foods were common in Greece. (Greece was a land of islands, so fishing was common. Sheep and goats could survive well on the rugged terrain and rocky soil.)
  • With your child, look at the pictures of Greek buildings in a picture book. At different times in United States history, Greek architecture was much admired and copied. Walk through your neighborhood with your child and take turns spotting elements of Greek architecture copied here. (Many public buildings have Greek-style architecture.)

Ancient Rome

  • Roman myths reflected how the Romans viewed themselves. Discuss with your child a myth that he or she knows. Determine what trait is expressed in the myth (honesty, loyalty, cleverness, etc.) that the people who created the myth believe themselves to have.
  • People in the Roman Empire benefited from trade with people outside the empire. Today, the United States trades heavily with other countries. Make a list of ten everyday items, such as shoes, telephones, and pencils. Find out which items were produced outside of the United States.
  • Help your child find examples of Roman mythology in American culture. For example, Cupid is used as a symbol of love. Note statues on buildings, symbols used in advertising, and words based on the names of gods and goddesses.
  • The Romans, like Americans today, debated how high to set taxes. With your child, discuss newspaper reports on taxes today.
  • The Romans called certain people barbarians. Help your child understand that such words reflect the values of the speaker. Work with your child to come up with pairs of words that describe the same person from conflicting values. For example, a person who does a death-defying stunt could be called either brave or foolish, depending on the point of view of the speaker. Work to come up with five pairs of words.
  • The Romans helped improve Egypt's infrastructure by creating a system of public services such as harbors, roads, and irrigation canals. Have your child list public services in your community that he or she uses every day.

Houghton Mifflin