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10 Social Studies Themes

Do you wonder if your social studies program is preparing your students for success? How do you choose effective, appropriate content for an elementary social studies course? One resource for identifying the most important content for social studies is the National Council for the Social Studies’ (NCSS) standards recommended for students from pre-K to 12th grade. The NCSS identifies ten themes that should thread through a social studies program and its related disciplines. We use these themes as a reference to ensure academic rigor in our textbooks, but we also want to prepare students to think biblically about these themes. Each of these themes is important to students’ biblical worldview shaping.


Elementary students should develop a basic understanding of the similarities and differences between cultures. A biblical understanding of culture does not look down on others for being different and instead appreciates the value of differences among God’s people. But a biblical perspective must also be honest in identifying aspects within a culture that do not honor God. Study of similarities and differences within people groups starts within the immediate family and community and expands across the nation and the globe. While learning to appreciate the differences in other cultures, students should see themselves as part of a culture with unique art, traditions, and values to understand the cultural foundation for their way of life.  

Time, Continuity, and Change

Students should see how the Creation, Fall, Redemption model plays out through history, with an understanding that the events of the Bible are history. Students should understand the time period that they are living in by establishing a basic sense of how time progresses and changes. Comparisons between how people lived in the past and life today help students form an understanding of the time period they are living in. A helpful way for students to see the similarities and differences across time is through stories, whether biblical, historical, or fictional.

People, Places and Environments

Students should understand that God created the physical world to be good, but it is now broken with all of creation. God still has concern for His creation and will one day restore it. The Creation Mandate teaches us that God made humans to take care of and cultivate the earth. Students learn how people interact with and use their physical environment, like how farmers grow the food that people need to live. Teachers help students build a basic understanding of place and environment through geographic skills. Students will learn how to identify different land features, such as mountains, lakes, plains, and oceans by using maps and globes to understand spatial relationships.

Individual Development and Identity

Young learners will best understand their identity in relation to the context of their immediate world, including family, friends, school, and community. Teachers introducing this theme to elementary students begin with discussions about family because of its profound influence on students’ development. Students learn to appreciate how they are a part of their society and culture, while still understanding that they are a unique individual that God has gifted to serve others in unique ways.

Individuals, Groups, and Institutions

The Bible teaches the importance of community and that God created people to need each other to survive. Creation was not complete until Adam had a companion. People rely on the individuals who compose groups and institutions to meet their needs. The NCSS defines institutions as, “the formal and informal political, economic, and social organizations that help us carry out, organize, and manage our daily affairs.” Elementary students should see how institutions and groups meet the needs of individuals and watch over public concerns. Teachers can explain roles of families, schools, government agencies, businesses, and courts to see how institutions influence students’ lives.

Power, Authority, and Governance

As elementary students begin to explore their natural and developing sense of fairness and order, they understand their responsibility to obey their authorities. A biblical worldview shows students that God appoints authorities. By obeying their parents, teachers, and government authorities, students obey God. Students should understand that the government’s basic roles and functions are to use their power and authority to establish order and security. Through teacher guidance, students develop an awareness of their rights and responsibilities and how power over others can be used effectively or can be abused. The example of Christ as a servant leader helps students see that even when people have power over others, they should act with love.

Production, Distribution, and Consumption

Students can establish early economic principles by a basic understanding of supply and demand. Students practice an economic way of thinking by learning to discern their wants against their needs. Every person’s wants exceed their limited resources, so students should understand the process of decision making when considering available resources and their immediate wants and needs. Students should learn to honor God with their resources by giving and showing love to others. They should understand how their economic decisions impact their community, nation, and the world.

Science, Technology, and Society

Students learn how technology, the practical application of science, influences and changes daily life. Students can begin studying this theme by understanding how basic technologies like telephones, cars, boats, and airplanes have evolved over the past century or more. To help students understand the extent of technology’s impact on them, have them list technologies that improve or are present in their daily lives, such as the wheel, the internet, indoor plumbing, and electricity. A biblical understanding of technology sees it as a tool that can be used to love and serve God and others, not as something that masters and controls its user.

Global Connections

The world becomes more connected every day, so students must form a biblical perspective on handling global connections. At a young age, students begin to understand how different parts of the world connect to and influence each other. They should develop firsthand experience, seeing how things that happen in one part of the world affect another part through exposure to various media. They should consider how these connections have benefits and disadvantages. Students can learn about the opportunities that global connections provide for gospel expansion. Stories about modern-day missionaries show students how God can use communication across the globe for His glory.

Civic Ideals and Practices

A biblical worldview teaches students that obeying authorities, promoting peace, and considering the needs of others is how Christians should live as citizens in this world. Understanding civic ideals and practices prepares students to be beneficial, productive citizens of their community. Students can practice good citizenship by helping their teacher set classroom expectations, holding mock elections, and learning to balance the needs of the individual and the needs of the whole class. Students should see themselves as an important part of the groups they participate in, including the class, their family, and their local community.

These ten themes can be a tool or guide to inform your social studies courses, not something to rigidly adhere to. Social studies has a unique opportunity to prepare well-rounded, informed, considerate citizens, and consulting these recommendations in light of a biblical worldview can improve the quality and depth of your social studies courses.

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