First grade social studies is an exciting introduction to the human world around them. Who recalls the dates of the Byzantine Empire? Or that the Ohlone Indians spoke one of the Utian languages? Such primers in history, geography, politics, and anthropology are crucial to our children’s education.

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

In the classroom

First graders should expect to expand their understanding of the rights and responsibilities of citizens by coming to see their classroom as a microcosm of society. Kids can learn about democracy while practicing good sportsmanship, voting on classroom rules, or holding mock elections.

First graders continue to study the significance of national holidays and learn to identify the symbols, documents, and landmarks important in U.S. history. Through books, art projects, theater, and music, they learn about people who lived in other times and places. They should learn to compare life in their own families with families in other cultures and be able to locate other communities on a globe.

Donna Adkins, the 2004 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, advises parents to start with family and community. “One way to help children understand how life changes over time,” she says, “would be for them to spend time with older adults, grandparents or neighbors, letting them tell them about their childhood. Then discuss similarities and differences between then and now.”

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

  • Sing songs like “America the Beautiful” that express American ideals.
  • Identify his community and state and countries, continents, and oceans on a map.
  • Make and use a simple map and know the cardinal directions.
  • Describe the food, clothing, transportation, and daily life of an earlier time.
  • Compare some of the beliefs, customs, and ceremonies of different cultures.
  • Identify the specialized kinds of work people do to produce goods and services.
  • Recognize the diversity of his own community and how people of different backgrounds share common goals and values.

What to look for when visiting your child’s classroom

  • Maps and globes
  • A teacher who leads the students in songs
  • Folktales, pictures, costumes, and artifacts from different cultures
  • Biographies of key historical figures
  • National and state symbols or documents like flags, the Declaration of Independence, and pictures of historical figures
  • Students learning about democracy, such as the results of a classroom election or rules the class has agreed upon
  • Examples of student work that describes other periods in history or other cultures