Preschool may represent many toddlers’ first experiences outside the family setting along with exposure to more structured environments. How do they fit into these new social settings full of different people and unfamiliar routines? How can they gain problem-solving, decision-making and collaboration skills? What about nurturing the child’s natural curiosity of the world around them? What lessons can be learned about becoming responsible and productive members of society in preschool?
That’s where social studies instruction comes into play in the classroom. In its most basic form, social studies is the examination of people and the way they relate to others. Teaching social studies lessons to preschoolers prepares them to become more engaged citizens in a rapidly changing, culturally diversifying and collaborative world.
According to the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), “social studies is a vital part of the early childhood curriculum, since children’s formative experiences shape their attitudes as citizens of their classroom, their schools, and of the larger community.”
Maybe you’re new to the profession and teaching this multifaceted discipline for the first time. Or perhaps you’re looking for some ways to refresh your social studies activities for toddlers.
It’s an important responsibility for the preschool teacher, but it doesn’t have to be daunting. In fact, preschool social studies activities can be fun and informative at the same time through storytelling, games, inquiry-based exercises and engaging projects.
Here are six amazing and fun social studies activities for preschoolers that will help your budding scholars understand their surroundings and begin to put the pieces together of the interconnected social fabric that’s being woven around them.
PRESCHOOL SOCIAL STUDIES ACTIVITIES THAT ROCK
Sorting Coins – Who doesn’t love money? The first suggestion on our list of social studies activities for preschoolers isn’t necessarily about inspiring kids to be the next venture capitalist. It involves money, but the lesson here is more about observation and comparison as children learn to start reasoning, using abstract thought and logic through coin sorting. First things first, you’ll need some materials to make this one of the most impactful preschool social studies activities. You’ll need a variety of U.S. coins, including pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. Other items to make the coin sorting activity a success: a jar or large glass container, bowls and laminated cards that list each denomination of coin.
Ask your class to sort the coins by:
The pictures depicted on either side
Coin sorting teaches your students to observe the differences and similarities between the coins, how to categorize them and encourages early numeracy and literacy skills.
Tip: Increase engagement by having students bring in coins from home that can be put into the pot (promise they can take theirs home after these social studies activities for preschoolers are over).
Recycle, Reuse – Learning ways to protect Mother Earth and the environment is one of the easiest but beneficial social studies activities for toddlers. An integral part of social studies involves learning about conserving our most important resources and taking care of the planet.
First off, teach your students about the recycling bins in your classroom and throughout your school, and get them in the habit of recycling materials instead of throwing them in the trash. Cap off your instruction with a fun project: Teach them about the universal recycling symbol and have them draw and paint it. This allows them to recognize the symbol through art, and they will begin to recognize it on bins and products.
Teaching young children to recycle – especially in our ever-increasing disposable society – starts them on the right path to creating a responsible civic mindset, and that’s the ultimate goal for all of our suggested preschool social studies activities.
Coloring Old Glory – Infusing art into your instruction is a proven method for getting maximum engagement when introducing social studies activities for toddlers. All you’ll need is black-and-white printouts of the United States flag and crayons, colored pencils or magic markers to get them started on making their own Stars and Stripes masterpiece. Display your cloth flag front and center so that everyone can see it, and have your students color in the red, white and blue on their print-outs. You can also share the evolution of the flag, from its 13-stars Betsy Ross-designed configuration to the current edition with 50 stars.
This exercise presents an opportunity to instill some patriotic pride, and teach the history of the U.S. flag in addition to the symbolism it contains.
Culture Up Close – Introducing your class to culture by visiting a museum or art gallery is next up in our suggested preschool social studies activities.
Ideal spaces for young learners, museums encourage them to investigate their interests through hands-on exhibits, authentic objects and activities. Art galleries boost creativity and challenge youngsters to think differently, even if they aren’t aware of it. Both types of attractions help children widen their horizons, learn how to be inquisitive and develop their storytelling skills.
Some towns and cities even have children’s museums geared toward young learners. If in-person visits to a gallery or museum aren’t possible, try reaching out to a local museum or art gallery to see if they will send a representative to your class to give a presentation on art, historical artifacts and exhibit items.
Map Quest – A child learning about exactly where they are and where they’re from can be one of the most profound – and fun – social studies activities for toddlers. Maps, landscapes and globes will be your visual aides, along with Google Maps and other navigation-based apps. Start small and ask your students if they know what town or city they live in. Once that has been established, show them on a map where you are, and then on a globe. Then pull up your school’s location on Google Maps and wow them. Give them facts about the size of your town, who the mayor is (show a picture), and display examples of the surrounding geographical features, such as mountains, hills, rivers, lakes and other distinctive landforms.
Instilling a sense of place is at the heart of many of these social studies activities for preschoolers, none more so than this one, which empowers children to begin understanding their environs and the bigger picture.
History and Herstory – Children love stories, and incorporating storytelling that focuses on historical events and leaders is the last of our suggested six amazing social studies activities for preschoolers. Try reading aloud from the Little Heroes series book “Courageous People Who Changed the World (Volume 1)” which serves as an introduction to historical figures that changed our society for the better, from Rosa Parks and Susan B. Anthony to Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. The inclusion of quotes from each of the individuals featured in the book, adorned with colorful illustrations, will capture the attention of your young minds. If you can’t find this book in your school or community library, inexpensive used copies are available at thriftbooks.com.
You’ll swell with pride as your preschool class begins to understand the social structures within your school as well as your community when you complete each of these preschool social studies activities with them.
If you’re seeking a deeper dive into social studies in the classroom and want to support your social studies activities for toddlers by connecting curriculum goals with the development of social-emotional skills, CCEI has the perfect offering. 21st Century Social Studies in the Early Childhood Environment is a three-hour course that provides an overview of state standards for social studies and recommends best practices and wide-ranging classroom activities.
For more on this course, as well as CCEI’s entire catalog of online professional development courses, click here.