Parents' Place

Helping Your Child Learn Social Studies: Grade 8

This year, your child will study how people settled and developed land in all regions of the United States. He or she will learn the origins of the United States government and how this form of government was adopted. Your child will also explore and understand the complex problems of our nation and how it has struggled to find solutions. He or she will see how Americans have worked and continue to work to form a nation built on principles of democracy.

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

European exploration and settlement

  • Together with your child, look at a map of the United States. Take turns pointing out the special geographical features of your region—mountains, plains, bodies of water, and/or major rivers. Talk with your child about which of these features aided and which slowed exploration.
  • Talk with your child about when your extended family first arrived in the region. Where did your family come from? How many other places in the United States did they live in first?

The American Revolution

  • Have your child role play being Thomas Jefferson. Have him or her tell you all the reasons the colonists want independence. Work to get your child to support each reason with an argument in his or her own words.
  • Encourage your son or daughter to read additional books about the people and events of the American Revolution. You might suggest books about people such as Samuel Adams, Deborah Sampson, Paul Revere, or Mercy Otis Warren. Another topic to read about could be specific battles of the war, such as Bunker Hill, Saratoga, Trenton, or Ticonderoga.

The Constitution of the United States

  • With your child, look for a book in the library written by or about a delegate to the Constitutional Convention which describes behind the scenes experiences. Did the delegate's thinking change as the Convention went on? How?
  • Help your child better understand the Bill of Rights. Together, read it and discuss the meaning of some or all of the amendments. Ask your child to state the amendment or amendments in his or her own words. Discuss how these rights have affected your life and the lives of others.
  • Work with your child to draw up a “household” government. Together, explore the ideas of representation, funding, and the rights and responsibilities of each family member. Encourage your son or daughter to be attentive to the process of what is involved in reaching decisions or making compromises.

The development of America's regions

  • With your child pretend that your family is about to embark on a journey from the East to the West in the 1830s. Together, plan the items you will bring—food, clothing, tools, bedding. (Be sure to include only those items that would have been available at the time.) Be aware of the combined weight of all the items because a heavy load will tire the horses. As you negotiate items, discuss the importance of each one.
  • Together, look at books that contain pictures of settlers traveling west. Encourage your child to use clues in the pictures to discover aspects of life at the time. What can he or she tell by the clothing, tools, and materials used to build homes?
  • Have your child research the history of a Southern city such as Charleston, South Carolina, or New Orleans, Louisiana. Have him or her learn how and why the city was founded, and some kinds of work people did. Discuss what he or she learned.

The Civil War and Reconstruction

  • Encourage your son or daughter to read a book or watch a movie, or television program (Ken Burn's “Civil War” is one possibility) about slavery in the United States. Discuss the impact slavery has had on African Americans as well as on all Americans.
  • If possible, visit a historic site of the Civil War, or a museum that has artifacts from the Civil War period. Talk to a guide or read museum materials about the importance of the site or artifacts. Discuss with your child how this war affected so many of the people living at the time.
  • If your ancestors fought in the Civil War, tell your child what you know about their involvement. Work with your child to learn more about the specific events your ancestors took part in.
  • Help your child understand the division that the Civil War caused among family members. Some families were divided over the issue of slavery, others over states' rights. Sometimes these differences resulted in family members fighting one another on the battle field. Discuss with your son or daughter some issues that divide families today.
  • Locate books in a library, visit museums, or watch movies or documentaries that portray the significant events in the African American civil rights movement. Work with your child to make a timeline of these significant events, beginning with Reconstruction and going up to today.

Industry, Workers, and the Age of Reform

  • Discuss with your child the importance of the transcontinental railroad, especially the impact it had on the lives of Americans. Help your child to make a list of the different ways we can travel across the United States today. Is the railroad as important as it once was? What, if anything, has taken its place?
  • With your child, find books at the library about how a mass production system is organized and how it works. Encourage your child to understand how the use of an assembly line and advanced technology produces large quantities in an efficient manner. Look for descriptions of new uses of robots in assembly lines. Talk about what impact they may have on factories and the economy. What are the pluses and minuses?
  • Have your child follow a political scandal in newspapers, magazines, and television news for a period of several weeks. Discuss the problems associated with it.
  • Encourage your child to find and follow a problem that a group is working to solve by reforming with new rules, regulations, or laws. (For example: campaign finance reform, environmental issues, work place safety). Compare this issue to other problems reformers worked on earlier in this century.
  • Women fought hard for the right to vote in the early 1900s. Work with your son or daughter to find articles in newspapers and magazines about women's modern-day struggles to win equal rights. What are the issues today? Discuss.

America becomes a world power.

  • Arrange to watch a movie with your child about World War I or II. Have your son or daughter point out the many ways in which Americans contributed to fighting those wars—both those who went abroad and those who stayed home.
  • After your child has read about World War II, the Korean War, or the Vietnam War, arrange, if possible, to have your child interview a relative or friend who actually fought in one of these wars. After the interview, discuss with your child what differences he or she found between the written account and the personal one.


  • Take a walk with your child through your community or a nearby city, looking for evidence of the daily life of immigrants. Such evidence will include hearing non-English languages; finding restaurants and food stores which serve different foods; and seeing architecture, street signs, or advertising in other languages or aimed at a specific minority. If possible, attend a cultural event that shows the customs and traditions of a particular culture.
  • Share stories of immigration with your child, perhaps your own family's history. If possible, have your son or daughter interview a family member about the immigration experience.
  • With your child, locate books showing photographs of immigrants. Use these photographs to discuss the expectations of immigrants, and where and how they lived when they first came to America.
  • Discuss with your child present-day immigration policies. Why are some people denied entry into the United States? Why are others allowed in? Ask your child how he or she feels about these restrictions.
  • Encourage your child to learn more about the bilingual education programs available in the United States today. Discuss the benefits and challenges of studying with students from a variety of cultures.

Modern American democracy

  • Help your son or daughter build a greater understanding of how all citizens can get involved in the community. For example, you might discuss how people can affect the environment, work for a political candidate, or volunteer to fix something or help someone.
  • Discuss with your child some of the problems facing cities today, such as homelessness, pollution, poverty, crime, and drugs. Find articles in newspapers that discuss these problems and give suggestions for their resolution. Find out about groups in your own town or city that work to alleviate problems.
  • Discuss with your child the ways in which citizens' lives are affected by local, state, and national government. For example, you might discuss the ways in which tax dollars are used for public education, road repair, environmental protection, snow removal, or human services. Together, locate newspaper articles that demonstrate ways in which citizens' lives are effected by government funding.
  • Together with your child, consider the strengths and weaknesses of your community or region, and the ways in which it is changing. Think about what kinds of projects or programs could make your community a better place to live in the years ahead.
  • Go through a daily newspaper with your child and find stories with examples of good citizenship. Point out the variety of ways an individual can practice good citizenship.

Houghton Mifflin