Are you looking for some fun educational activities to keep your kids busy this summer and help prepare them for school in the fall? There are so many simple social studies activities you can do with your preschooler or school-aged child that don’t really require much planning or preparation at all. Using items you already probably have at home, it’s never too early to start teaching your child about the world around them.
If you aren’t a teacher, you may be wondering what kind of social studies topics you can start introducing your child to. Topics you cover should begin to teach your child about how people relate to each other, their community, their environment, and the larger world around them. For example, you may start teaching your child about:
To make things a little easier, we’ve put together a list of some easy social studies activities you can try with your child.
1. Map your neighborhood
Learning about maps can be a great way to introduce your child to geography as well as their community. Begin by showing your child different types of maps, including large-scale, medium-scale, and small-scale maps. Small-scale maps show a larger area with less detail, like world maps, while large-scale maps, like a city or neighborhood map, look like they are zoomed in to a smaller area to show more detail. Point out to your child that a map usually includes a scale to show distance, a compass rose to show directions, and a key to show points of interest.
Next, talk to your child about your own neighborhood. What are some things they might draw on their map? Are there schools, parks, or restaurants in your neighborhood? You can even take a walk around your neighborhood to get some ideas. Finally, help your child put together a map of the neighborhood using markers or crayons. Encourage them to include a scale, compass rose, and a key.
2. Learn about families
While we often think about social studies as learning about other countries and cultures, children are only just beginning to learn about the social structures in their own life. Looking at books and magazines with your child can be a starting point for learning about different kinds of families. Talk about what they think makes a family and how your family may look different from some other families. This will begin to teach your child to appreciate diversity and to accept and respect others who they may perceive as different from them.
Once you have introduced your child to the idea of families, cut out pictures of different kinds of people from a magazine. Encourage your child to find people in the pictures that could represent your own family structure to glue onto a piece of paper. You can also use the pictures to talk about other family structures that you might see. This can be an opportunity to teach your child that, while families can look different, the people in each family love and care for each other, and that’s what makes them family.
3. Celebrate world holidays
If your child enjoys learning about world cultures, spend some time flipping through your calendar to find a few world holidays that you might want to try celebrating this year. Once you have found some that look interesting, do some research together — most libraries have children’s books about different countries and their holidays, which might be a good place to start. Learn about any special traditions, foods, or decorations associated with the holiday.
Once you have done your research, you can plan your own celebration. Make your own decorations and find a recipe that is simple enough for you to prepare with your child. If there are any special games, dances, music, or other activities associated with the holiday, you can incorporate these as well.
4. Learn about flags and the Olympics
With the Summer Olympics coming up, your child might have some fun learning about different countries and their flags. If your child doesn’t know about the Olympics, you might start by teaching them about the history of the Olympics and how athletes from all over the world come together to compete in sports. Then, use a world atlas to look at different countries’ flags, and have your child recreate some of these using construction paper and any other materials you want, like paint, markers, or craft sticks. For even more fun, you might even put together your own Olympic games at home, with each family member representing a different country of their choice.
5. Create your own recycling bins
Teaching your child about recycling helps them to see how people affect their environment and the importance of protecting our planet. Ask your child what they think happens to the things they throw in the trash and where the garbage truck takes it. Teach them about landfills and how recycling helps to reduce the amount of waste that goes into them. Then, see if they know which items go in the garbage and which ones can be recycled.
Once your child knows what items can be recycled, they can create their own recycling bins that will help them sort their recyclable items. These can be old cardboard boxes or plastic bins that you’re are no longer using. Using construction paper and markers or alphabet stickers, have your child label bins for different recyclable materials, like paper, plastic, glass, and cans. Encourage your child to stop and see if any of their trash can go in the recycling bins before throwing it away.
Neill, P. (2015). Extensions. HighScope. https://highscope.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/166.pdf.
My name is John Haber. I’m a Pediatric Occupational Therapist and the founder of Nogginsland. I became a COTA in 2003, and then went back to school much later, receiving my Master’s Degree in OT from Mercy College in New York in 2016.
Over the years, I’ve worked with a variety of populations in different settings, from school districts, to developmental disability centers, to children’s hospitals.