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Kindergarten History

This article discusses how history is taught in kindergarten. It explains the areas that are considered fundamental to the understanding of history, including time, place, culture, family, and stories. It also provides sources for teaching culture.

The kindergarten history curriculum may be taught as history or may be combined with or retitled as social studies. In either case, kindergarten history generally begins very close to home, helping a child to understand his or her own life, times, and environment, and establishing that as a basis for the child to begin to look beyond as he or she gets older: at his or her community, city or town, state, and country, and eventually the world.

At the same time, the child also learns about the sequence of events in a day and a week as preparation for looking at developments, movements, and activities that occur over the course of many years. Read on for some more information about the usual content of kindergarten history.

The Elements of History

Many different elements go into understanding history, for instance, an understanding of:

  • Time
  • Place
  • Culture
  • Family
  • Stories

These are referred to in the basic principles that underlie the K-4 national history standards set out by the National Center for History in the Schools Let’s look at each of them.

Kindergarten History: Time

The principles refer to time in several different ways, and a sense of time is one of the underpinnings of an understanding of history. This includes understanding sequence and chronology, as well as a sense of past - both recent and distant past - present, and future. In kindergarten, this is often approached by elementary instruction in telling time, discussion of the day’s schedule, inviting students to talk about events in their homes, the use of calendars to look ahead to upcoming events and review events of the past, and discussion of days, weeks, months, and annual events that locate us in time.

Kindergarten History: Place

The “where” of events is often involved in the “why” that explains their occurrence. The standards principles suggest focus on neighborhood and community, and this focus is usually echoed in kindergarten curriculum. Children learn simple geography of their local area, and take field trips to local spots of interest and places of business. They have an introduction to maps as well.

Kindergarten History: Culture

The national standards explicitly mention culture connected to students ability to imagine history. References to students’ own culture, for example, holidays, traditions, rituals, and customs, and explicit information about other cultures and their celebrations and practices is a standard part of the kindergarten curriculum.

An understanding of different roles in the family, school, and community, including occupations, also serves to give students an introduction to culture. Seeing people at work in their own community is typical, but the principles also urge taking kindergartners to museums with live enactments of historic times. Examples range from colonial life to the past of particular cultural groups and areas and include:

  • Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, where eighteenth century colonial life is recreated
  • Historic Deerfield in Massachusetts where early American life from 1650 and following is the focus
  • Greenfield Village in Michigan spans history from the seventeenth century to the present day
  • Lincoln’s New Salem in Illinois represents the time that Lincoln lived there in the 1830s
  • Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts where rural New England life of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century are re-created
  • Old World Wisconsin in Wisconsin reenacts the 1870s
  • Plimouth Plantation in Massachusetts has reenactments of seventeenth century colony life
  • Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawai'i features recreations of traditional villages of a range of Polynesian countries
  • Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Kentucky captures nineteenth century Shaker life

Kindergarten History: Family

Knowing his or her family history gives s child grounding and framework for understanding the stories of other people with whom the child has less connection. Visiting locales where parents and other relatives grew up and meeting extended family, as well as learning about genealogy and the families cultural origins are important parts of this process. If the family has collections of photographs and/or letters, these can contribute as well, as can seeing the results of family members’ hobbies (stamp or coin collections, tee shirts, postcards, etc.). Sharing elements of family life and history in a class show and tell is a typical kindergarten activity that gives an opportunity for a child to retell his or her own family’s story in his or her own words as well as learn about the stories of others.