Whether you are a homeschool parent or providing after school enrichment for your children, you are no stranger to the common question, “Why do I have to study history?” A main tenet of education is that children grasp and retain concepts better when they feel that what they are learning is relevant. Students may believe that it’s a waste of time to study the past, or people and places outside their immediate circle. By preparing now to answer the question “Why do we study history and social studies?” you can make learning history even more engaging and achieve far greater success with your student.

First, Are History and Social Studies the Same?

Is social studies the same as history and vice versa? In popular culture, the distinction between history and social studies is often blurred. In truth, history (along with subjects like geography and sociology) is one subject within the field of social studies. Both history and social studies center on human experience, but the focus is different:

  • Social studies generally centers on the study of groups of people, looking for trends, generalizations, and themes over the course of time.
  • History emphasizes the events of the past to tell the story of the human experience through significant periods, incidents, and actions involving both groups of people and individuals.

In traditional grade-level progressions, social studies vs history reveals itself in the names of courses. A typical elementary school curriculum often features social studies as one core subject area, while middle school and high school courses tend to separate social studies into more specific categories under the social studies umbrella. For example, Time4Learning’s middle school social studies curriculum includes courses in Ancient World History, World Cultures and Geography, Civics, Government, and Economics, and US History; while the high school social studies curriculum offers US History I, US History II, Survey of World History, and US Government.

Why Do We Study Social Studies?

Lawmakers and educators have designated social studies as a core subject across the country. So why is social studies important? It prepares children and young adults for their eventual civic responsibilities and involvement in a culturally and economically interdependent world. Our country’s youth need to be educated in social studies to understand the context for how we got where we are, to build a basis for decision making and civic duties like voting, and to help them determine their own identities as members of local, state, national, and international communities.

In addition to learning more about their role as a global citizen, your child will benefit from the study of social studies in these ways:

  • Greater understanding of the real world: Social studies enables your child to gain knowledge about people (including how and why they do the things they do), places, and events, building an appreciation of cultural diversity and an understanding of various governments, economies, and social traditions.
  • Integration of subject areas: Social studies brings together subject-specific content with broader skills like reading, writing, listening, and speaking as your child is asked to take in information, process its meaning and importance, and use it to debate issues.
  • Improved critical thinking skills: Because social studies is complex, it requires the use of critical thinking skills to understand, analyze, and evaluate the human journey while making connections to your child’s personal experience.

All grade levels of social studies in the Time4Learning program are designed to create a well-rounded education and teach students analytical skills. For example, our fourth-grade social studies curriculum emphasizes inquiry-based learning using primary and secondary sources. The inquiry-based approach teaches students to use logic and evidence to support a claim or viewpoint about a social studies topic.

So Why Do We Study History?

While your child may understand the importance of learning about people and places that are still in the world, your child may still wonder, “Why is it important to study history? Everything happened so long ago, why does it matter to me?” The important piece here is to stress that history isn’t stuck in the past. Everything that exists now is the way it is because of the past, so history affects the people, places, and events of today. Why should we study history? Because it explains the present and can help shape the future!

History, specifically, can also help your child develop certain competencies. Looking into the past requires research skills and an understanding of how perspective influences how events are documented. Your child can learn to distinguish between fact and opinion, and between reputable and non-reputable sources. Through historical study, your child will notice patterns and determine instances of when “history repeats itself.” They can connect to the personalities of those who impacted history and delve into the thoughts, values, and decisions that shaped our country and world. Who knows? History may even become the foundation for a lifelong interest or a future career!

How to Study Social Studies

If you ever had a teacher who focused on memorization of dates and facts, or reading and answering questions from a textbook, you may have found that course to be less than engaging.  To bring social studies to life for your child, make it  relatable and interesting by following some of these tips:

  • Follow your child’s interests and have them explore real-world questions (i.e., inquiry-based learning).
  • Motivate your child to learn ‘more’ through interactive activities like historical field trips, role plays, debates, and project-based learning.
  • Embed learning into daily activities by discussing current events and holidays, watching political debates and speeches, and exploring the historical relevance of places you visit.
  • Infuse social studies learning with exploration of important personal, family, and national values. Examine events from history in terms of ethical and moral considerations.

Knowing how to study social studies enables you to challenge your child beyond rote memorization of events, places, and famous people. Rather than being just a checkmark on the list of required subjects, studying social studies with these engaging approaches can broaden your child’s mind. Remember to share your own enthusiasm for the human experience as you journey through social studies and explore the hearts and minds of the people who have shaped our world. Together, you can enjoy this crucial part of your child’s well-rounded education!