Stewart Elementary’s Culture Room introduces students to all areas of social studies: history; physical, political, and cultural geography; government; and economics. History is presented, not as a meaningless list of names, places, and dates, but as an integrated story of real people making real decisions. We implement a three-year rotation of the history curriculum: year 1 covers world history from early man through ancient Greece, year 2 covers ancient Rome to the present, and year 3 is U.S. history. As students take in the sweep of events, they discover causes and effects, learn to empathize with others' perspectives, and evaluate the consequences of seemingly small decisions. Because stories are more easily remembered than more abstract lists, we often hear students bring up stories heard three or four years earlier, drawing parallels to our present story or to current events, and doing so accurately. We have been astonished at the ability of second and third grade-aged children to understand information that we only encountered in high school and college, as long as it is presented well.
Stewart's approach to geography likewise goes beyond anything we have seen in other school settings. We have worked with second grade-aged children who, by using concrete, hands-on materials, have taught themselves the names of every nation in Asia, and third year students who can identify all the flags of Africa. Because the works build on each other, students may see some of the same information presented at several different levels; each repetition reinforces what the student has learned, yet each new level adds new complexity and detail, so that the child is challenged rather than dulled by the experience. Because the hands-on materials are done independently, students are able to work at a pace that matches their personal abilities.
Government and economics arise naturally in the culture room. As we discuss history, we see different forms of government and basic economic principles at work. Older children spend time preparing to meet state legislators each year through the local Third House meetings and by serving as pages in Indianapolis; their preparation includes understanding how state government, and by extension the federal government, works, as well as researching bills currently under consideration in order to ask well-informed questions of the legislators.
Stewart's culture room is an exciting place to learn and work. The field of study is as broad as the child's interests, and as deep as the child's abilities. Even better, students learn not only information, but they learn how to learn, how to build on the foundation provided at Stewart. Best of all, they learn to enjoy learning, to maintain the curiosity of children and add to it the ability to find answers to their multitude of questions.