Volume: 2, Issue: 3


Creativity and Teaching Social Studies in an Elementary School
Рено, Кр. [about]

DESCRIPTORS: Social Studies curriculum, cultures, traditions and customs, folktales, communities, families, Arts Voyage.
SYNOPSIS: The school principal from a rural elementary school in Chatham, New York, introduces some interesting and insightful approaches to teaching Social Studies to the K-4th graders. A serious accent is made on involving Arts and making the process truly interdisciplinary.

Creativity and Teaching Social Studies in an Elementary School

As part of our Social Studies curriculum in Chatham NY, as well as most schools in New York State, we study other countries and their culture as it is both similar and different from ours.  As educators in a country where we embrace many different ethnic groups, religions and ways of life, presenting different traditions are crucial to understanding who we are as Americans and how our own culture and traditions came to be.  We provide opportunities for the community to guide us through what they see as important traditions and customs.

Grade levels from kindergarten to third grade, study another culture as it relates to our own.  As per the New York State Core Social Studies Curriculum Guide:
The social studies program in kindergarten focuses on helping students develop awareness of themselves as growing individuals.  Children’s unique qualities as well as similarities to others are stressed.  Children learn about values, ideas, customs, and traditions through folktales, legends, music and oral histories.  In addition, children’s relationships with others in the classroom and the school become sources for social studies learning.  Social interaction skills are integral to the kindergarten program.  Emphasis is placed on using content that is relevant and personally meaningful.  A wide range of interdisciplinary activities can help children grow and, and gain knowledge and skills.  Children also begin to learn about their role as citizens by accepting rights and responsibilities in the classroom and by learning about rules and laws [1].

Some of the curriculum we cover related to studying other countries and cultures in kindergarten are:

  • My physical self includes gender, ethnicity and languages.
  • People use folktales, legends, music and oral histories to teach values, ideas and traditions.
  • Each person is unique and different.
  • My family and other families are alike and different.
  • Different people live in my neighborhood.
  • The United States can be located on a map and a globe.
  • Citizenship includes an awareness of the symbols of our nation.
  • Citizenship includes an understanding of the holidays and celebrations of our nation.
  • Citizenship includes knowledge about and a respect for the flag of the United State of America.
  • People have responsibilities as members of different groups at different times in their lives.

Here in Chatham, this material is present through a variety of ways.  We have parents of all different ethnicities come in to school and present the traditions, music and folktales of their country of origin.  We take field trips through our neighborhood designed to recognize the different symbols of our community.  Our librarian reads stories from other cultures explaining the different holidays that are celebrated, and what they mean for the people celebrating them, as well as how our own traditions in the United States came to be.  Our music program focuses on songs and traditions that are important to us as citizens.  By working together with the community and modeling good citizenship, our kindergarteners receive a good beginning knowledge of their identity and how it fits into citizenship and civic life.

In First Grade, our focus shifts from the physical self, to understanding the role we play as members of different groups. 

As per the New York State Core Social Studies Curriculum Guide:
The grade one social studies program focuses on helping students learn about their roles as members of a family and school community.  The development of identity and social interactions are stressed.  Students learn about families now and long ago, as they study different kinds of families that have existed in different societies and communities.  Students also begin to locate places on maps and globes and learn how maps serve as representations of physical features and objects.  Building on the level K program, the grade one program encourages interdisciplinary learning to assist in developing the content, concepts and skills outlined for the k-12 social studies program [1].

Some of the curriculum we cover related to studying other countries and cultures in First Grade are:

  • Families and different kinds of families exist in all communities and societies though they may differ.
  • Families have beliefs, customs and traditions
  • Families lived in other places and at different times.
  • Some family beliefs, customs and traditions are based on family histories.
  • People of diverse racial, religious, national and ethnic groups transmit their beliefs, customs and traditions.
  • Folktales, biographies, oral histories and legends relate to family histories.
  • Different events, people, problems and ideas make up my community’s history.
  • Folklore, myths, legends, and other cultural contributions have helped me shape our community and local region.
  • People exchange elements of their cultures.

One of the great traditions in our first grade classes in Chatham is to have children learn about cultures and traditions through folktales and fairy tales that they act out in front of an audience.  Students spend time researching with teachers and community members where our folk tales come from and the importance these stories play in our community today.  Working with members of the fine arts community and school faculty, the students put together short plays depicting folk tales with community relevance. 

In Second Grade we introduce the concept of community and how they differ even within our own country.

As per the New York State Core Social Studies Curriculum Guide:
In the grade two social studies program, students explore rural, urban and suburban communities, concentration on communities in the United States.  The student’s own community can serve as an example for studying about and understanding other communities. Community studies include content examples from cultures other than the students’ own, and from a variety of perspectives including geographic, socioeconomic and ethnic.  Students continue to learn how to locate places on maps and globes and how different communities are influenced by geographic and environmental factors.  They also study about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in their communities [1].

Some of the curriculum we cover related to studying other countries and cultures in Second  Grade are:

  • Urban, suburban and rural communities differ from place to place.
  • Events, people, traditions, practices and ideas make up my urban, suburban or rural community.
  • My urban, suburban or rural community has changed over time.
  • Communities in the future may be different in many ways.
  • People living in urban, rural and suburban communities celebrate various holidays.

An extensive study of our community is completed in second grade.  Students take a walking tour of our community with the help of community leaders, to learn about what it is like to grow up in a rural community and understand the values and traditions that are important here.  The art teacher helps students draw community maps, highlighting important locations throughout the district. 

Social Studies in third and fourth grade take on a very different look and feel.  Students get a very in depth look at the curriculum through a partnership with Arts Voyage [2].

As per the New York State Core Social Studies Curriculum Guide:
In the Grade three social studies program, students study about communities throughout the world.  Students learn about the social, political, geographic, economic, and historic characteristics of different world communities.  Students learn about comminutes that reflect the diversity of the world’s peoples and cultures.  They study Western and non-Western examples from a variety of geographic areas.  Students locate world communities and learn how different communities meet their basic needs and wants.  Students begin to compare the roles of citizenship and the kinds of governments found in various world communities [1].

Some of the curriculum we cover related to studying other countries and cultures in Third Grade are:

  • What is a culture?  What is a civilization?
  • How and why do cultures change?
  • Where do people settle and why?
  • People in world communities exchange elements of their cultures.
  • People in world communities use legends, folktales, oral histories, biographies, autobiographies, and historical narratives to transmit values, ideas, beliefs and traditions.
  • The causes and effects of human migration vary in different world regions.
  • The physical, human and cultural characteristics of different regions and people throughout the world are different.
  • Lifestyles in world communities are influenced by environmental and geographical factors.
  • Societies organize their economies to answer three fundamental questions:  What goods and services should be produced and in what quantities?  How shall goods and services be produced?  For whom shall goods and services be produced?

In third grade, teachers are able to choose different areas of the world to study.  Here in Chatham, we study Venice, Italy.  Through our partnership with the Spencertown Academy, and the Arts Voyage program, we do an in depth study of the music, artwork, culture.  The Arts Voyage program provides students with guest musicians, artists and Tom Lee, resident educational leader of the Arts Voyage Program to enrich learning.  Currently, students are studying Vivaldi and The Four Seasons.  Students create and interpretive dance to each of the seasons.  Our art teacher has also helped the student create a model to scale of Venice, including the canals and bridges, focusing on the architecture of the city.  Parents and community members are encouraged to get involved and all are welcome to our Carnivale celebration after the unit is over.

We are fortunate to have a partnership with local organizations and artists.  Through each unique perspective we are able to create a well rounded social studies curriculum focusing on other areas of the world.


  1. New York State Learning Standards and Core Curriculum Social Studies Core Curriculum Part I, 1996.
  2. http://www.spencertownacademy.org/Arts-in-Education.html

1 Reno, Kristen – Mary E. Dardess Elementary School Principal, Chatham Central School District, Chatham, NY.


Karen Reno (Nov. 13, 2010)

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