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Social Studies

The social studies program includes the study of human relationships, both past and present, and draws its subject matter from geography, history, anthropology, economics, political science, and social psychology. As the program is developed through the grades, the child is made aware of the larger world. The social studies program is based upon the assumption that a democratic society depends upon sensitive and responsive citizens who can make rational decisions consistent with basic democratic values. The classroom provides the environment in which students can inquire into and evaluate questions which deal with social behavior through a wide variety of historical and social events.

Curriculum by Grade


In Kindergarten, Social Studies begins with a unit on families. The students learn about each other and get to know each other. Students also learn that there are all types of families. Students read books about different kinds of families and create their own class family book. They expand their study of families to animal families, learning collective nouns of animal groups, names of animal young, and their parents. They culminate this study with a trip to Turtleback Zoo. In addition, students learn about the various cultures, cultural celebrations, and holidays within the classroom, with the active participation of their parents. They also cover a variety of other topics such as famous people, historical events, geography, current events, and maps. Students develop critical thinking skills by gathering data through polls, interviews, and research, tracing commonalities and differences, identifying problems at an age appropriate level, and respecting the arguments of others. They broaden their understanding of their place in the world through the use of creative dramatics, celebrations, art projects, poetry, books, films, videos, and field trips. The students are introduced to sign language through music and poetry. Particular emphasis is placed on fostering self-awareness, a positive self-image, socialization skills, and a sense of social justice.

Kindergarten students created self portraits after studying about melanin. We learned that the amount of melanin in our skin helps to create our skin color. Often families look like one another and our beautiful faces and families are something to celebrate!

Grade 1

In Grade 1, the children learn about different communities, starting with the school community, then branching out locally and finally globally. Social Studies is integrated into the total curriculum as well as in several special classes such as art, music, computer science, and science. Basic geography and map reading skills are taught throughout the year. Informational reading is introduced in Grade 1 when the students begin their research about penguins and Antarctica. The children learn about the continent of Antarctica and the 17 various species of penguins. The next unit of study is learning about Africa and its rich tradition of storytelling. They will compare and contrast the characters in many African stories. Later in the year, while learning about the continent of Australia, they will implement their research skills using the technological databases made available to them on their individual iPads. Character education based on inclusiveness is reinforced throughout the year as the students develop acceptance and appreciation of the different communities. A culminating trip to the zoo is taken late in the year, where the children view animals and use their map skills to find and answer riddles.

Grade 2

In Grade 2, social studies concepts and critical thinking skills are integrated with the language arts, science, math, and arts programs in thematic units. Using multilevel online and text resources, students become factual experts on Alaska. They acquire literacy skills of research and guided note-taking, they learn to determine the importance of information and to categorize information they have learned during the research process. Social studies units integrate language arts, science, math, technology, art, and music content to allow students to investigate social studies content through various lenses and build a richer appreciation and context for the information that they learn.

Students circulate independently through stations that require the science and math skills of measurement and scale drawings. During the unit on traditional Native Alaskan ways of life, they study geography (including the route of the Iditarod sled dog race), practice mapping skills, create murals and clay sculptures, and absorb concepts of diversity, compassion, and friendship through Alaskan stories and myths. They analyze the effect different biomes have on the development of culture by native communities and compare and contrast their own lives to those of children who live in northern climates.

Students further their capacity for empathy and an awareness of social justice with an in-depth examination of people who fought to make a difference, interacting with their ideas and lives through reading and writing. Students engage in an age-appropriate examination of the civil and human rights movement. They read about people with disabilities and the elderly. During the final trimester, students extend their informational reading and writing skills by researching women from diverse cultures, writing factual reports, and sharing them with the whole school in a formal oral presentation.

A STEAM global partnership unit has been added to the Grade 2 and Grade 4 curricula, taught through the Level Up Village program. Level Up Village’s “take a class, give a class model” means that Pingry’s participation in this STEAM global partnership class allows for the participation of our global partner classes in developing countries. During this unit, students participate in a hybrid literature/engineering class where they examine central conflicts in folktale literature from around the world and attempt to solve the mythical problems from these stories using engineering solutions. This unit introduces students to the engineering design cycle and students use this process to brainstorm, plan, execute, and evaluate their own engineering solutions. The global partnership component of this unit allows students to then communicate their learning through an academic exchange with our partner classes in developing countries around the world. Students record video messages to send to our global partners and eagerly await video messages in return. Students leave this unit with not only a better understanding of foundational concepts in engineering and design, but a new appreciation for a country, culture, and lifestyle very different than their own.

Grade 3

In Grade 3 the program focuses on the geography of the United States. Emphasis is placed on the link between the geography of each of the six regions of our nation and their historical, economic, and social development. Literature, both fiction and nonfiction, provides a rich source of material for this program, while traditional textbooks, maps, globes, and atlases are used as reference tools. Films, customized iPad apps, slide and video presentations, and field trips provide additional opportunities for enrichment of basic course material. An additional key component of the Grade 3 social studies program is the research, preparation, and presentation of a detailed state report by each student. Students select a state, contact its government leaders or agencies, and utilize materials from our media center and the Internet. The work is completed in school and at home with the assistance of the homeroom teacher, Academic Technology Facilitator, and librarians. Literacy skills such as arranging events in chronological order, comparing and contrasting events, drawing conclusions from data, identifying cause and effect, and providing evidence for assertions are explicitly taught and implemented in social studies assignments. Assessment, formal and informal, is supported by ongoing study skills lessons and carried out through tests and quizzes as well as through original map work, group projects, and reports.

Grade 4

In Grade 4, students study the geography of New Jersey and learn the history of the state, from the arrival of the Paleo-Indians in North America to present-day. Students use a variety of sources to learn from multiple perspectives about daily life in different eras, human motivation and conflict, and how events and policies have shaped the New Jersey we inhabit today.

Students engage in several in-depth studies and take part in activities to help deepen their understanding of the people they study. Learning about the Lenape Native Americans and their use of natural resources, students take to the woods to build tools, practice skills, and build Lenape-style shelters.

Learning about the Dutch colony of New Netherland, students discuss the roles that slavery and discrimination played in the development of the settlement and the lives of people belonging to marginalized groups. Learning about the American Revolution, students engage in their own model Continental Congress to debate the future of the colonies.

After learning about turn-of-the-century immigration, students create an immigrant identity to use during “Immigration Day,” in which students travel to America and are processed through the Ellis Island medical and legal examinations.

Students also learn about the African-American migration to northern cities like Newark, and the reform and civil rights movements. Throughout the year, students practice non-fiction research skills and provide evidence to support their assertions in various writing formats. Teamwork and problem solving skills are emphasized as students complete projects using various forms of technology (such as creating videos, creating and presenting slideshows, navigating virtual tours online, and using Google Drive).

Students also attend several field trips, including a model Lenape Village, and Ellis Island.

Grade 5

The course builds upon concepts and skills developed throughout earlier years. The course encompasses aspects of three great ancient civilizations, two unparalleled archeological discoveries, and a three week course on the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Students begin with the study of ancient Egypt. They delve into the incredible treasures of King Tutankamon’s tomb, the personalities and reigns of various pharaohs, their architectural feats, the advances in science and medicine, the roles of religion and myth, hieroglyphics, and the discovery of the Rosette Stone.

The study of ancient China is an exciting interdisciplinary course involving eighteen teachers, two from our Basking Ridge Campus. The unit involves the following: art, Chinese character writing, geography, history, library research, Mandarin, music, poetry, drama, science, math, storytelling, Chinese dance, technology, the archaeological discovery of the terracotta warriors, and an interactive skype session with our sister school in China.

The Greek unit focuses on their fascinating mythology, the gods and goddesses, and The Odyssey including the character development of Odysseus. This is followed by a three week course on the Metropolitan Museum of Art culminating with a trip to the museum. Each student individualizes their tour according to their own leanings. They conduct their own tours with their parents or guests. The purpose of this trip is to have the children make the museum their own, to view the museum as a primary source of history, to see that it contains multi-dimensional forms of art, and to enjoy the wonders of this great institution. Technology is integrated throughout the year through research and virtual tours of historic sites and museums. A variety of media and primary source materials are used as well. Connections are drawn between the past and the present as it is all part of the story of mankind.