Bonnie Meszaros, Associate Director
Delaware Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship
University of Delaware
Another faculty meeting. Another discussion on standards.
Another presentation of student scores on the state reading
and writing assessment. Another reminder to sign up for one
more fifth-grade Smithsonian kit training and to block off time
for a workshop on the new math curriculum. At last, the faculty
meeting wraps up, but not before the principal asks everyone
to think about the topic of the next meeting—Ways to address
the social studies standards. She must be kidding! There aren’t
enough hours in the day to teach everything. Something has
to give, or does it?
Elementary teachers across the state are faced with the daunting
task of figuring out how to fit social studies into an already
overcrowded curriculum. How much time is left each day after
teaching language arts and math? What meaningful social studies
can be covered if only thirty minutes per day are devoted to
social studies? Is there a way to weave social studies into
other content areas in a meaningful way? There just never
seems to be enough time to teach all that needs to be taught.
Children’s literature is one way to combine reading and language
arts skills with the teaching of social studies. The ideas
that follow highlight a few books and activities that can be
used at grades 4 and 5 to begin meshing economics and language
arts with the teaching of United States history. At these grade
levels, teaching all the social studies standards and the district
social studies curriculum is impossible through language arts
and children’s literature alone. However, the use of children’s
literature serves as a vehicle for weaving social studies across
the curriculum, helping students make linkages between disciplines;
it provides a context for learning, enriching the curriculum,
and alleviating the time crunch that teachers are under for
larger blocks of time for the social studies.
The Printer’s Apprentice by Stephen Krensky (1995)
describes the adventures of a young man who works as an apprentice
to a Philadelphia printer in 1734. This ties in well with economic
Standard Three that asks students to identify different ways
goods and services have been produced in different times and
places. After reading the book, ask students to compare how
newspapers were produced in the 1700s with the process used
today. Provide students with a portion of Jonah Walker’s diary
that can be found in Teaching Activities for Delaware History
(1995). Jonah was an apprentice in 1800 to Mr. James Pyle,
a cooper in Brandywine Village. Have students compare and
contrast the life of Gus in the story to that of Jonah Walker.
The Printer’s Apprentice and Jonah Walker’s diary also
provides the opportunity to analyze the costs and benefits of
being an apprentice and of taking on an apprentice. Students
can also write a paragraph* comparing learning by going to school
to learning by being an apprentice. Additional books that focus
on problems with serving an apprenticeship include What’s
the Big Idea Ben Franklin? by Jean Fritz (1976) and
A Head Full of Notions by Andy Russell Bowen (1997).
These books include discussions on why Ben Franklin and Robert
Fulton were dissatisfied with their apprenticeships and chose
to run away.
Immigrant Kids by Russell Freedman (1995) uses
photographs and quotes from children to tell the story of immigrant
kids at work, play, school, and home. It ties in well with
Economic Standard One. After reading the chapter “At Work,”
tell students that labor laws existed that regulated the amount
and kind of work children could do. Yet, those laws were ignored
by employers and parents who were considered law abiding individuals.
Pose the question: Why might parents and employers break the
laws and allow young children to work? Then, provide students
with a list of regulations for child labor today. Ask students
to compare and contrast the working conditions, length of workday,
and legal work age of children, using a Venn diagram.
Assign students the task of interviewing a worker between
the ages of 14 and 17 using the following questions. How old
are you? What type of work do you do? Do you operate any machinery?
If so, what type? How many hours do you work each week? What
time do you get off work in the evening? Are you able to complete
your homework? In what ways does the job you have now prepare
you for your future? Instruct each student to write a report*
that addresses the following topics: (1) how child labor laws
affect the number of hours and the kind of work he/she is allowed
to do; (2) how the job contributes to the worker’s human capital;
and (3) whether or not, in the student’s opinion, the worker’s
job complies with child labor laws.
Additional books that focus on children and work are Kids
at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade against Child Labor by
Russell Freedman (1994) and Monkey Island by Paula Fox
The Industrial Revolution offers many examples of inventions
and new technology that increased productivity and affected
both consumers and producers (Economic Standards One and Three).
Eli Whitney by Judith Alter (1990) brings out the costs
and benefits of the invention of the cotton gin. This is an
opportunity for students to learn to analyze both sides of an
issue or problem. Ask students to explain how the cotton gin
affected consumers, producers, plantation owners, and slavery.
Foster’s War by Carolyn Reeder (1998) tells
the story of a young boy and his family who lived in California
during World War II. The book is rich with examples for teaching
economics, geography, civics, and history. The discussion of
rationing coupons is a perfect example to discuss how government
actions can create shortages (Economic Standard One) and examine
the advantages and disadvantages of different ways of distributing
or allocating goods (Economic Standard Three). Ask students
to identify what might have been a better allocation strategy
and to explain their answer.
In The Boys’ War, author Jim Murphy (1990)
uses first hand accounts of soldiers who describe the difficulties
of getting food and other supplies. Often, they purchased items
from sutlers. Sutlers were not an official part of the military,
but they were permitted to trail after troops and sell things
like food and personal items. They sold these goods at two
to three times the original price. Ask students to explain
why sutlers might charge so much and why soldiers might pay
what appeared to be such outrageous prices (Economic Standard
Through trade books, such as the one mentioned in this article,
teachers can integrate social studies across their curriculums.
The use of trade books enriches the curriculum, helps children
make links between disciplines, provides a context for learning
the standards, and lessens the amount of time required specifically
for social studies.
*Editor’s Note: As described in this article, students are
using what they know (i.e., write a paragraph) to show what
they learned (i.e., child labor laws).
It is possible to link English language arts Standard One
with the writing suggested in this article by teaching
students how to write for the purposes (i.e., to inform) in
the form (i.e., a paragraph, a report) suggested. Explicit
teaching is required to help students write well.
- Alter, J. (1990). Eli Whitney. New York: F. Watts.
- Bowen, A.R. (1997). A Head Full of Notions: A Story
about Robert Fulton. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books.
- Fox, P. (1991). Monkey Island. New York: Orchard
- Freedman, R. (1995). Immigrant Kids. New York:
- Freedman, R. (1994). Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the
Crusade against Child Labor. New York: Clarion Books.
- Fritz, J. (1976). What’s the Big Idea Ben Franklin?
New York: Coward, McCann, and Geoghegan.
- Krensky, S. (1995). The Printer’s Apprentice. New
York: Delacorte Press.
- Meszaros, B. & Funk, G. (1995). Teaching Activities
for Delaware History. University of Delaware: Center for
- Murphy, J. (1990). The Boys War: Confederate
and Union Soldiers Talk about the Civil War. New York:
- Reeder, C. (1998). Foster’s War. New York: Scholastic