Your children learn about what is happening and has happened in the world in their social studies classes. The following activities are designed to broaden their knowledge of this area and increase their interest. Many will also provide family members a chance to work together. These activities are especially fun in the summer. Your children's time will be especially well-spent if you can tie these activities to what they will be studying in school the next year. Choose activities based on your children's ages. Younger children will need some assistance with many of these activities.
Celebrating the Fourth of July
Make the Fourth of July a more meaningful holiday that goes beyond picnics and fireworks. Add to the fun of the Fourth of July through poems, songs, music, and facts that every American should know. Choose age-appropriate activities.
March around the house or yard to the music of John Philip Sousa such as "The Stars and Stripes Forever" and "The Washington Post." Be sure to tell your children the names of the songs and the composer.
Find books of poetry associated with the early history of the United States. Read aloud "Paul Revere's Ride" and "Old Ironsides." Enjoy singing together such songs as "You're a Grand Old Flag" and "Yankee Doodle." Be sure to look up the histories of these poems and songs to make them more meaningful.
Find out if everyone in your family can sing the first verse of "The Star Spangled Banner." If not, practice singing it together. Continue by singing such songs as "America the Beautiful" and "America." Also, check that everyone knows the words to "The Pledge of Allegiance."
Families with older children can read and discuss the Gettysburg Address and the preambles to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Your children will study these documents at school and may be asked to memorize them.
Attend community events that stress the patriotic nature of the holiday.
Learn how to correctly display the American flag. Find out the history of the American flag. Be creative and make a flag cake. Make drawings or paintings of the first flag.
Your family history
Children spend considerable time in school learning about well-known families both past and present. They also need to know their own family's history as well as the major historic events that occurred in their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents' lives.
Make a picture scrapbook as a family project that includes your immediate family, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Add great-grandparents whenever you have pictures. Tell your children stories about each person and what was happening in the world when he or she was a child such as seeing the first man walk on the moon.
Enhance the scrapbook by having your children draw charts or family trees to illustrate the relationships between the generations. Older children may become so intrigued by the topic of genealogy that they may wish to use Internet Web sites to find out more about distant ancestors and where they lived and what they did.
Making salt maps
Help your children master the art of making salt maps for your first activity. It's fun and a handy skill for future social-studies projects. Select a location that your children will be studying next year, and make a salt map of it to familiarize them with its geography. For example, a third- or fourth-grader could be studying his or her state while a middle-schooler might be studying other countries.
Here is a recipe that you can use. Mix together 2 cups of flour and a cup of salt, then add 1/4 cup of water. Knead the mixture until it is smooth. You might have to add more water if the mixture is too dry or flour if it is too sticky. The dough is then spread on a board in the shape of the map that is being made. If you like, you can add dough in areas where there are mountains and make indentations for rivers and lakes. Bake the map in the oven at 300 F for about an hour or until it is hard. After the dough has cooled, you can paint the map and label cities, rivers, mountains and other details.
Go back in time
Visit historic homes and farms in your community that portray what life was like in the past. The ones with docents who pretend that they are living in a specific era are particularly good choices.
Try to replicate meals of different time periods, such as meals the first colonists would have eaten. To make a meal like this truly authentic, you could cook it over an open fire in iron pots.
Your children can learn about the interesting things that have happened on the day they were born. By using a search engine or visiting the Web site www.historychannel.com/thisday, they will be able to find some of these facts. If your children will be studying U.S. history, they should look for facts about this country. If they will be studying another country or continent, they can look for events that occurred in those places.
If several important events happened on the day they were born, your children can make a timeline for the events. It will certainly help them remember these dates. For example, on Oct. 5, 1953, Earl Warren became the 14th chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court; on Oct. 5, 1983, Lech Walesa won the Nobel Peace Prize; and on Oct. 5, 1984, the first space shuttle was launched.
Learning about immigrants
The United States has people from many different countries. Acquaint your children with some of the well-known people who have immigrated or simply are working in this country. Take a trip to the library and find age-appropriate books on these people. They can choose people like basketball superstar Yao Ming from China or California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger from Austria. Talk also with your children about where their relatives immigrated from. They can find these places on a map or globe.
Visiting seats of government power
Acquaint your children with the government of your state by visiting your state capitol. If this is not a practical suggestion, you and your children can go online and make a virtual tour. Before you visit the capitol, have your children use an almanac or go to the state's Web site to find out some basic facts about your state, such as the names of the state bird, animal, flower, motto, song, your district's representatives and the governor. Before you visit the capitol, find out if tours are given, and arrange to join one, if possible.
If you can't visit the state capitol, visit city hall or the county seat. Many are in very historical buildings. And some will offer tours and even let you visit different meetings so that you can see local government in action.
Making papier-mâché globes
Children always enjoy hands-on activities. By making a papier-mâché globe, they can not only get a picture of where things are located but do such things as tracing the routes of famous explorers. Young children can color the oceans and land masses and use a marker to indicate where they live. As they get older, children can add more details such as the names of the continents and oceans and finally the names of major countries.
Here is one recipe to help you get started on this project. Begin by using a simple mixture of flour and water. Mix one part flour with about two parts of water until the consistency is like thick glue. You might need to add more water or flour to get this consistency. Mix thoroughly. Adding a few tablespoons of salt helps prevent mold. Blow up a balloon, and then cover it with strips of newspaper dipped in the mixture to form your globe.
Getting a head start on geography
Give your children a head start in learning about the places they will be studying this year in social studies. The more children know about geography, the better they will understand social studies.
Find a map of a place your children will be studying this coming year, such as South America, Europe, the Far East, the United States, Canada, or their home state. Quite often, it is possible to find blank maps in learning stores as well as online. Have your children use encyclopedias or atlases to fill in the maps with the names of such things as countries, states, capitals, oceans or rivers. They can then color the maps. Laminate the maps, and use them as placemats. Once they are back in school, encourage the children to point to and talk about the areas that they are studying in social studies during family meals.
This activity can be expanded by helping your children learn where more places are located. Hang up local, state, or national maps, and then have them circle the places where friends and other family members live.