Every year, questions and comments come up in my kindergarten class that leave me speechless. Not because I don’t know the answers, but because the explanations behind them are complex and potentially sensitive, around ideas of community and identity, power, or culture. And as anyone who has worked with young children knows, no question is off limits for those with limited boundaries and little impulse control. Some from last year:
- Why am I Black and Ishaan *no? We have the same skin tone!
- I had to come back from the beach because my mother ran out of money.
- I am going to visit my grandparents in India. I love the look of them, but there’s a lot of trash out there on the street.
- My father said that Mr. Trump is a very, very bad person.
- Where is Texas located? That’s where my family moved next because my dad was in the military.
- Luis* sounds different because he speaks Spanish. How do you know how to talk to him?
*Name has been changed.
These questions and comments, and others like them, occur daily in elementary classrooms and provide opportunities to teach content and skills that help students develop an awareness of who they are in the community and how they relate to and differ from others. When taught sensitively, answering questions students have about themselves and others can help them develop conflict management skills, empathy, and a deep appreciation of diversity. In other words, the social-emotional skills they bring throughout their education and into their lives outside of school.
Although elementary school students seem to have no difficulty asking questions of their own, important topics in the kindergarten social studies curriculum provide pathways to instruction for ideas such as different narratives and perspectives, culture, balances of power, patterns of ideas, and different identities. aligned. with the social emotional skills mentioned above. By integrating social-emotional learning (SEL) into social studies, students develop “the tools and strategies they need to learn with empathy rather than jumping to conclusions or making assumptions” (Ziemke & Muhtaris, 2020, p. 92). The Maryland State Department of Education (2020) divides social studies standards into six areas for kindergarten. I’m going to focus on these five today and how they can connect to the SEL area of the premier class.
1. Citizenship – “Students will inquire about the historical development of the basic concepts and processes of authority, power, and influence with particular emphasis on civic reasoning to become informed, responsible citizens, involved in political processes, and contributing to society.” Some of these ideas may seem a little advanced for five and six year olds, but the foundation is the interaction that we, as teachers, see every day. The dynamics between students and adults and between students and their peers can be complicated, especially for young learners for whom kindergarten may be their first experience of interacting with someone other than their family. We can take these ideas about citizenship and apply them in our primary classrooms as we teach SEL skills such as how to resolve conflict, how to apologize, how to share, and how to act kindly and respectfully towards others. Whenever we teach how to get along in community, we teach citizenship.
2. Society of Nations and the World – “Students should ask questions about the people of the United States and the world using a historically grounded, multidisciplinary approach to recognize multiple narratives and acknowledge the diversity and commonality of human experience.” The keywords in this standard are “diversity” and “similarity”. How are we the same and different from other people? Identity is a powerful factor in the kindergarten classroom. Children develop friendships based on who has the same color of clothes or the same favorite animal. We, as humans, naturally find those who are similar to us. What we have to do as teachers is develop a sense of fun and respect in our students for those who are different. Teaching a solid foundation for the importance of diversity is essential for students to learn as they interact with different peers and learn their stories. We practice this when we teach about people and their experiences in social studies courses.
3. Geography – “Students will inquire about the role of culture, technology, and the environment in the location, distribution, and impact of human activity using geographic tools and spatial thinking to show the importance of place.” Today’s students have families all over the world and many students know where their families come from. Just pulling up a globe or world map sparks an interest in who each of us is and where we come from. Returning to same and different ideas, addressing identity through a cultural lens helps students learn about themselves and one another and learn to respect both. As with the previous standard, Society of Nations and the World, we demonstrate these skills by how we introduce topics within the context of the lesson as well as with our own students.
4. Economics – “Students will inquire about decisions made by individuals and groups using economic reasoning to understand historical developments and the current status of the economic principles, institutions, and processes necessary to become effective citizens, consumers, and workers who participate in local communities, nations, and the world.” Young students are no strangers to what money is and what it can do. Sometimes, as in my student’s comment about leaving the beach at the start of this post, they may be exposed to too much. Many times over the last year, my students have casually chatted about family members who have a lot of money and others who have little, who gets what expensive toys for Christmas, and how much the Tooth Fairy gets for each child. While some of these conversations are harmless, they do raise sensitive topics that can be uncomfortable for children, especially those from low-income backgrounds. Even if it may not solve a family’s economic struggles, discussing money through the lens of choices and decisions can help students understand why they are wearing their sibling’s old shoes instead of the light-up new shoes or why the school didn’t just buy a camera for each of them. space to monitor behavior (actual suggestions made by students last school year). Developing the skill of asking “why” can help students understand and manage the emotions or confusion that may arise around the topic of money.
5. History – “Students will inquire about key events, ideas, beliefs, and themes to identify patterns and trends and analyze how individuals and societies have changed over time to relate to the present in their communities, Maryland, the United States, and the world .” History is an interesting subject for students who have lived for less than a decade. Regardless of their age, children are fascinated by how things “used to be”, and sharing with them how ideas can change opens their eyes to how their beliefs can be tempered. Identifying patterns and trends in the past and how they developed helps them understand the relationship between feelings and choices, even their own. So how do you start integrating these ideas into your own social studies class? Some starting points:
Primary Sources (photos, videos, maps, etc.)
In-person interviews with adults or peers
Interaction with students and other adults
Casual conversation with students
However, before you start selecting sources, take a look at some of the important questions raised by Kristin Ziemke and Katie Muhtaris in Read the World: Rethinking Literacy for Empathy and Action in a Digital Age (2020). For each text or lesson element, ask yourself, or discuss with your students:
How is this text accessible to my students?
Whose stories and perspectives are represented? Whos gone?
Does this text suggest multiple identities?
Are people represented in a variety of ways, or are there stereotypes?
Does this text have a reputation?
Is there any bias present in this text? Was it chosen with equity in mind?
When teachers take the time to answer questions in the context of the lesson or outside of it, students develop skills for both socio-emotional learning and in social disciplines, both of which will support them throughout their lives and lead them to achieve them. his second goal: to grow to positively contribute to society.
More to Explore
- Maryland State Department of Education (2020, September). Social studies framework: Kindergarten. Maryland State Department of Education.
- Ziemke, M. & Muhtaris K. (2020) Critical reading: Developing empathy through connected literacy. Read the world: Rethinking literacy for empathy and action in the digital age. Heinemann.
Emily Ancona is a kindergarten teacher at Clemens Crossing Elementary in Howard County and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Literacy at Loyola University Maryland. Click for more information about the Literacy Program at Loyola University Maryland.
Posted: December 15, 2022