Using Fiction in Social Studies

From Pre-K through Grade 6, students learn about the people in their world, first themselves within their families, their neighborhoods, and then their communities.  Gradually their circles widen to explore how they and their communities interact as part of a state, a nation, and a world.  Throughout, they see how people live and work together  amid change, diversity, and their environmental circumstances.

The “what’s, where’s, when’s and who’s” of social studies are essential.  But facts are most real to students when they can actually “see and live with” people who are working their lives out within them.  Reading fiction set in the places and times they’re studying lets students experience the people, times, and places as well as know about them.

Something in the Air in Social Studies (Pre-K - Grade 2)

Something in the Air's coverYoung learners explore how families live and work together, and how they lived and worked together in the past.  These explorations then move out beyond the family to include the community where many families and individuals may live and work together.  They explore how families and communities can change, the differences within them, and how they work out problems.  Change, diversity, and cooperation are important ideas for them to explore.  

In Something in the Air, Ben and his family cope with big changes.  First, the family had changed when Ben was adopted.  Toots and Sadie had had to share Mama Cat’s attention and love with him.  Then their home and neighborhood changed when Mr. David sold his store.  Children will also notice that Ben’s neighborhood (one that existed in the 1940’s) is different from their own neighborhoods in many ways, and Mr. David’s store is different from the stores where they go shopping.

Young children also begin to notice differences among people and places.  They may explore the ideas of diversity and inclusion.  Not all members of a family are alike, nor are all members of a community alike.  They may look different, and may like different things.  

In Something in the Air, Mama Cat’s blended family is full of differences, much like our own families.  In the end, Ben, Toots, and Sadie discover that being together and working together in spite of their differences is what they all want.  When children explore change, diversity, and cooperation along with Ben in Something in the Air, they may find  these realities more comfortable and natural within their own families and neighborhoods.

The Choosing Tree in Social Studies (Grades 3-7)

The Choosing Tree's coverBesides being a book just to curl up and read, THE CHOOSING TREE adds background and interest to the study of American History as well as church history.

In THE CHOOSING TREE, set in Maine in the late 19th century, 8-year-old Daniel is left to live with a strange, fervent group of people called Shakers.  By the time he is 13,  Daniel’s life has turned upside down.  Neither he nor the Shakers of Sabbathday Lake will ever be quite the same!

Exploring lesser-known peoples within our country, such as the Shakers, can shed light on what the country as a whole was like in an earlier time. Who were the Shakers, and where did they come from?  What were the conditions out of which they emerged? What was going on across America while the Shakers were establishing new communities in the East and Midwest?  What did they contribute to life in this land? 

For churches and parochial schools, THE CHOOSING TREE contributes an important piece to understanding the history of the church in this country.  Seeing the Shakers emerge, thrive, and decline as an influential voice raises interesting questions for students to explore.  What important contributions did the Shakers make, not only to others of faith, but to the wider community?  Do religious groups that continue to thrive differ in definite ways from those that fade and fail?  In what ways might this question be relevant for non-religious groups as well?