History and geography are distinct fields of study in the sixth grade, as they were in the fifth grade, although they should be linked whenever possible to what is being studied in language arts and in science. Sixth grade children are able to use several different kinds of maps; to use primary sources -- historical records, diaries, newspapers, and the like -- to enlarge their understanding of other people and other time periods; and to interview their parents and grandparents about other times. These skills are enhanced during the intermediate grades as children continue to work with maps and primary documents, and as they become involved in active inquiry to answer questions they have posed.
At the same time, children gain more sophistication about the framing of historical questions: Why did that happen? What are the facts? Are the sources reliable? What are the interpretations? What other possibilities were there? What were the effects? How do we know? How have things changed or stayed the same since then? Whose voice is not being heard?
The sixth grade curriculum typically concentrates on ancient history and world geography; it includes information about the origins and growth of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. But in the best classrooms, the social studies curriculum also continues to follow current events in the nation and the world. Furthermore, the teacher uses the children's interests as the springboard for investigations into their origins in Europe, Africa, Asia, or Latin America. Whenever possible, social studies also highlights legends, those mythical stories that have been handed down across the generations. The mythologies of Egypt, Greece, and Rome, for example, add great vitality to social studies at this level. Children in the intermediate and middle school years tend to be attracted to the mythic, and mythic stories can teach much about various peoples and cultures.
Regarding ancient history, children will learn how archaeologists and historians have pieced together accounts of life in various early civilizations; how civil governments were formed; how various peoples interacted and cultures grew; the role of religion in ancient societies, and the like. Special attention is paid to the roots of democracy in the city-states of Greece and in Rome.
As part of their study of history, children will visit historical sites and museums. But teachers will foster the recognition that history is more than just a collection of facts and dates -- that it is the story of everyday life and ordinary people as well as of blockbuster events and famous individuals. Finally, teachers will encourage the children to read the daily newspaper, watch news on television, and talk regularly with their parents or guardians about local, state, nationa1, and world events.
Reprinted from 101 Educational Conversations with Your 6th Grader by Vito Perrone, published by Chelsea House Publishers.
Copyright 1994 by Chelsea House Publishers, a division of Main Line Book Co. All rights reserved.