Parents' Place

Helping Your Child Learn Social Studies: Grade 7

This year in social studies your child will study empires in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America. He or she will compare these empires, and see the similarities and differences in cultures in different places and times. Your child will also learn that these different civilizations shared ideas and technology and affected each other's growth and development.

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

As societies come into contact, they spread technology and ideas.

  • Elements of one culture spread to another, a process called cultural diffusion. For example, the spoon was invented in Asia thousands of years ago but is now used in many areas around the world. Help your child come up with some examples of different customs, ideas, technology, or language in your lives that have come from other cultures.
  • Ask your child to look through the clothes in his or her closet and make a list of all the different countries whose names appear on the labels. Be sure he or she includes shoes, shirts, pants, hats, and jackets. Go over the list together and count how many countries your child has contact with just through his or her clothing.
  • During the next two or three weeks, help your child keep a log of how many and what kinds of contacts people in your household have with people who live outside your state. The log can include relatives, friends, and business/shopping contacts. Remind your child that even as recently as one hundred years ago, such contacts would have been much harder to make. Discuss what makes these contacts easier to make today.
  • Point out the buildings used for worship by different religious groups in your neighborhood or town. Talk with your child about how ideas, beliefs, and products are carried from place to place.
  • If you know someone who has traveled to other countries, help your child arrange an interview. Encourage your child to find out what this person has learned about the language, customs, clothing, and food of people living in another part of the world.

Geography influences the ways in which we live.

  • Ask your child to describe physical features—parks, stores, buildings, streets, trees, rivers, and so on—that make where you live unique.
  • Discuss with your child how people in your community or region change the land to find water, grow crops, raise animals, and build homes. Are there any problems that stem from these efforts?
  • Ask your child to identify geographic features shared by all the states in the region in which you live—Northeast, South, Midwest, or West.
  • Certain geographic features made the growth of civilizations possible. Ask your child how specific local geographic features (such as mountains, plains, rivers, deserts, and so on) affect the way people in your community live.

Islam, one of the world's major religions

  • The ancient city of Jerusalem is sacred to three different religions—Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. With your child, look for a book or set of articles in the library that explains the history of the city and why it is so important.
  • The city of Baghdad around the year 1000 was a center for government, commerce, art, and learning. Together, identify two or three cities in the United States today which are important in the same way.
  • Tradition is an important part of the Muslim culture. Help your child list different traditions—family, religious, and ethnic— used in your family. Talk about the ways you make sure these traditions continue.
  • Traditional Islamic customs and modern ways co-exist in both Saudi Arabia and Iran. Encourage your child to identify several examples of both traditional and modern customs that exist in your community. Discuss why the clash between traditional and modern ideas can create problems.
  • With your child, discuss the diversity of religious beliefs held by people living in your community. If possible, visit a local church, temple, or mosque and find out more about Christian, Jewish, or Islamic rituals, holy books, and teachings.


  • Families in parts of Africa lived in extended families. Help your child make a list of relatives who live close enough for you to see once a week, once a month, and several times a year. Does one side of the family live closer than another? Does where your relatives live affect your decision about where you live? Discuss with your child.
  • Today in our country, as in African cultures, people use legends to pass on their history. These familiar stories may be passed from grandparents to grandchild and from parent to child. Others are learned in school, read in books, or shown on television and in movies. With your child, take turns listing legends you each have learned and from where you learned them. Together, make up a new legend about your family.
  • Iron was very important to the Bantu. Have your child make a list of items in your home that are made of iron. Check those that are used every day.
  • The following list shows what was expected of Bantu people at different ages: Early childhood—obey mother; Late childhood—help with chores; Young adult—defend the community; Adult—head household, raise family; Older adult—assist rulers; Grandparent—judge murder cases. Help your child make a list of the roles of different age groups in our culture. Discuss the similarities and differences in the lists.
  • African leaders are trying to meet challenges that face their countries, such as poverty, lack of adequate health care, illiteracy, and civil wars. Have your child find newspaper or magazine articles that address some of the challenges facing Africans. Together, brainstorm possible solutions.


  • Tolerance of other religions was important in the growth of early Asian empires. Work with your child to list how things might be different if our country did not have laws guaranteeing religious tolerance. (For example, some hospitals and charitable organizations that are run by religious groups might not exist.)
  • You can help your child understand the importance of the Mongol development of a written language. Without writing it down, work with him or her to name five things you cannot do without writing. (Some examples: keeping track of groceries needed, paying bills, giving certain instructions, making maps) Discuss the experience of doing these activities without writing.
  • Confucius taught that there are five basic relationships: husband and wife, parent and child, older and younger sibling, friend and friend, and ruler and subject. Ask your child to consider which of these relationships he or she has. Discuss Confucius's ideas about the family. In what ways are your child's ideas similar and different?
  • Truly new inventions are rare. With your child, write a list of any inventions you feel have made important changes. (Some examples: electricity, airplanes, computers, vaccines.) Talk about how your lives would be different without these inventions. Which items were invented in your lifetime?


  • Japanese culture developed the haiku poem. A haiku has only 17 syllables: the first line has five syllables, the second seven, and the third five. With your child, look at a book of haiku poetry at the library. Then take turns creating a haiku about your family, home, or some important event in your life.
  • Japanese samurai had codes of conduct that governed their actions. These codes included courtesy, honor, defense of the weak, and loyalty to their lord. Work with your child to list codes of expected behavior among some different groups today, such as scouts, doctors, judges, or athletes.
  • Japan has had great economic success since the end of World War II. Have your child identify Japanese products that he or she uses, such as computers, cameras, television sets, and videocassette recorders.

Medieval Western Europe

  • Like Japanese samurai, European knights also had codes of conduct that governed their actions. Have your child make up a code of conduct for a club, school class, age group, sports team, or family group. Have him or her share the code, and explain why he or she chose it.
  • In school, your child learned that the ruler Charlemagne could not read or write. It was not unusual during the Middle Ages for kings to rely on clerks and religious leaders to do the writing they needed. Have your child experience this by giving up writing for a space of time, and coming to you for all of his or her writing, no matter how personal. At the end of the time period, discuss the experience. What were the advantages or disadvantages of having to depend on someone else's writing?
  • Cathedrals built during the Middle Ages were elaborate, enormous undertakings that could take up to 100 years to build. Encourage your child to read a book about the building of a cathedral. (David Macaulay's Cathedral: The Story of its Construction would be one good choice.)
  • Encourage your child to create a comic strip or a cartoon to illustrate what feudal life was like for a serf, vassal, king, queen, peasant, or knight.

Europe and the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment

  • Guidelines from an old section of an Italian Manners Book explained that people should not carry toothpicks behind their ears, clean their teeth with napkins, or wear bright stockings that call attention to fat, thin, or crooked legs. Help your child develop a list of guidelines for good manners today.
  • Have your child look at an art book to find paintings by Renaissance artists such as Raphael, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Brueghel, Botticelli, Masaccio, or others. Ask him or her to pick out three favorites and to tell you why they are favorites.
  • Newton discovered that all bodies fall at the same rate, no matter what size or weight. Test this scientific fact with your child. Hold up two objects, such as a quarter and a piece of paper crumbled into a ball. Have your child watch carefully as you drop both objects at the same time. Look for other objects that are different weights and sizes and take turns testing those.
  • Edward Jenner performed experiments to test a vaccine against smallpox. Talk about new medical discoveries made in your lifetime. Work with your child to list discoveries that either of you know which have changed health and dental care. What concerns have people had about these new discoveries?
  • Reports of the travels of Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo encouraged others to venture into new regions. With your child, make a list of places either of you have heard about from someone else who has traveled to them.
  • King Henry XIV of France and other absolute monarchs of the 1600s spent large amounts of money constructing impressive buildings, and buying beautiful furniture and fancy clothes. With your child, find picture books at the library that show the homes and furnishings of these monarchs. If possible, find books that show what ordinary people's homes and furnishings looked like, and compare.
  • England and France were rivals throughout the 1600s and 1700s. With your child, follow current news stories to determine the relationship between Great Britain and France today.
  • You and your child each make a list of people you each feel have some type of power over you. (Your child might list teachers, police officers, religious leaders, or other students.) Share your list, and discuss the reason each person has power. What were the differences in your lists? Did you have any people in common?
  • Enlightenment thinkers urged people to investigate facts rather than accept the views of others. Help your child list five statements he or she thinks are true based on personal experience and observation, and five statements accepted on the authority of others. For example, unless your child has been to France, the statement “Paris is in France” would go on the second list. “My house is painted green” would go on the first list.

Empires in the Americas

  • Help your child understand how early peoples discovered that plants could be grown from seeds. Put a seed on top of moist soil in a pot—a bean seed will work especially quickly. Have your child keep the soil moist at all times, but do not cover the seed. Within a short time (as short as two or three days, for a bean seed), the seed will sprout and begin to grow.
  • To help your child understand better how archaeologists learn from physical evidence, set up a “household dig.” Have family members each choose several objects to contribute. Place all the objects in one spot, and work with your child to go through them carefully and say what the object would reveal to an archaeologist studying our culture in the future.
  • In school, your child will see pages from Aztec books in which the Aztecs illustrated their daily life. Work with your child to make a similar book in which you draw or write something about your life everyday for two weeks. Compare with the Aztec book. What are the similarities and differences?
  • The explorer Amerigo Vespucci gave Venezuela its name, meaning “little Venice.” The name Argentina comes from the Latin word for silver. Have your child find out the origin of the name of where you live.
  • Brazil's rain forests are often in the news today. Help your child find pictures in books or magazines that show plant, animal, bird, and insect species that live in these rain forests.
  • Ask your child to follow and cut out magazine and newspaper articles about Mexico over a period of one month. At the end of the month, discuss what he or she has learned about Mexico.

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