It’s a fact: reading stories is the most personal and enjoyable way to learn about history and remember what you learn. Luckily, fourth grade is an ideal age for children to bolster their real-world knowledge by reading — and especially by reading historical fiction.
At this age, children can tell the difference between truth and fiction. They’re also beginning to learn about the history of their state. Whether children are learning about Padre Junipero Serra building the missions in California, or how Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León landed in Florida in 1513, fourth graders all over the U.S. are suddenly expected to learn real history. This means understanding the geographical settings, the importance of big events, and how these events shaped the state where you live. Even for kids this young, this includes dates, important people, and the substance and effects of new ideas. Students are expected to synthesize all of this new knowledge into essays and presentations.
But here’s the problem: a lot of children from immigrant families struggle with these expectations. Why? Not because of their reading level or their ability to speak English. It’s because neither they nor their parents are familiar with the everyday dates and names that are commonly taught in the region.
When kids don’t know basics that everyone else knows, it’s hard not to feel scared and shut down. I recall coming back to California when I was in fourth grade. I was American, but my family had been living in Africa for a few years. I remember my social studies teacher calling on me to ask me “What is the capital of California?” I knew the capital of Ghana, where I’d been living, but that didn’t count. I stammered something, and the teacher exclaimed “It’s Sacramento, you should know that!” I turned red and didn’t raise my hand for the rest of the year.
How can you help your child make sense of the history of this new country that’s so new to your family? It’s as easy as a trip to the library. Expose your child to lots of stories based on real history and you will help your child grow their knowledge of their new home and the wider world.
History and historical fiction books to help 4th graders learn about different regions of the U.S.
The Mystery on the California Mission Trail (Book 5 in the Real Kids Real Places series)
Who Was Sacagawea?
Train to Somewhere
Island of the Blue Dolphins
Patty Reed’s Doll: The Story of the Donner Party
If You Lived with the Hopi
Baseball Saved Us
The East Coast
Lucky Broken Girl
Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh
Secret Saturdays by Torrey Maldondo
Hannah of Fairfield (American Revolution)
Who Was Abraham Lincoln?
Now & Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin
The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette’s Journey to Cuba
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (and sequels) (Great Depression, African Americans)
Spy in the Sky (Civil War)
Orphan Journey Home
The Lakota Sioux
The Little House on the Prairie series
Trail of Tears
Freedom School, Yes!