Who recalls the dates of the Byzantine Empire? Or that the Ohlone Indians spoke one of the Utian languages? Details from social studies are easy to forget once we graduate to the real world. Still, such primers in history, geography, politics, and anthropology are crucial to our children’s education.

How do you know if your child’s social studies curriculum stacks up? Check out our grade-by-grade milestones to understand your state and national standards.

In the classroom

Civic lessons are central to social studies, and, according to award-winning teacher Jane Ann Robertson, decision-making skills should be part of all second-graders’ education. “The primary purpose of social studies in the elementary classroom,” she says, “is to help young students develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public as citizens of a democratic society.”

Second-graders learn to compare their own lives with the lives of parents, grandparents, and famous historical figures. Students might also learn about their ancestors’ immigration to the United States and the countries they left behind.

Second-graders might be asked to:

  • Create a personal timeline.
  • Study the lives of earlier generations of Americans including important heroes.
  • Learn about the history of their own communities.
  • Learn about maps, legends, scales, and directions and think conceptually about the world.
  • Identify states on a map of the United States.
  • Sing songs that express American ideals.
  • Begin to learn about the basic workings of democracies and other types of governments.
  • Discuss natural resources and how they are used to produce goods.

An integral curriculum

Social studies covers history, geography, economics, and civics, and your second-grader’s curriculum will likely focus on a theme that integrates these disparate subject areas and allows your child to develop critical thinking, research, and writing skills. One example: the study of farming. By looking at the workings of a farm, second-graders can learn about managing natural resources, how individuals and businesses contribute to a community, how farmers shaped U.S. history and culture, and the geography of different regions, among other topics.

What you can expect your second-grader to do or learn:

  • Identify hemispheres, poles, and the equator on a globe.
  • Identify the countries, major rivers, and mountain ranges in North America.
  • Recognize that natural regions are represented on maps by showing physical features, climate, vegetation, and natural resources.
  • Understand the importance of geographic features to communities.
  • Understand how governments provide security, establish order, and manage conflict.
  • Know how public officials are chosen and how laws are made.
  • Identify the difference between local, state, and national government, and identify key leaders for each (mayor, governor, president, etc.).
  • Explain how individual actions and characteristics of historical figures made a difference in the lives of others.
  • Explore the history of their community and state.
  • Practice reading, writing, research, and artistic skills in a thematic unit that incorporates social studies.

What to look for when visiting your child’s classroom:

  • Timelines that illustrate historical eras or family histories
  • Maps showing topographical features
  • Biographies of historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Jackie Robinson, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Sally Ride
  • Examples of classroom writing or projects such as dioramas, charts and drawings that describe life in other cultures or times in history
  • Diagrams that show how laws are created and examples of historical documents that depict law-making
  • Charts or examples of student work that describe the origin of products
  • Descriptions of various jobs in society


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