The humanities subjects all play an important role in the overall curriculum for primary schools and in inter-curriculum skills. If well instructed, they can teach children vocabulary, creative, literacy, spiritual, social and even nationalistic skills (Alexander, 1984). How these objectives can be achieved will be examined below. History plays a crucial role in the primary curriculum as it provides solutions to some instrumental questions within our lives.
It allows children to understand how the world around them became what it is today, also allowing them to trace their origin and that of their peers. Key Stage 1 (KS1) children are usually unfamiliar with historical events, and cannot comprehend the past. History is the platform for introducing children to this crucial aspect of their lives, and teaches them the ability to piece together different types of information, and learn the principles of drawing conclusions from evidence presented, allowing them to form links between the present day and the past (Cooper, 2000).
As practice shows specific topics and attainment levels within the subject differ from school to school. It is almost impossible to exhaust all the areas related to history; however it should be noted that one of the most crucial stages occurs when children reach Year 2. At this point they should possess the ability to place events in sequence from the past and the present, and start to understand the reasons why some events in the past occurred as they did (Bage, 2000).
They should also have the ability to distinguish between the way they are living now, and the way people in the past lived, children are expected to realise that elements of the past were clearly represented in certain ways, stimulating a sense of curiosity in them so they ask questions concerning those past events (Carson, 1984). When teaching KS1 children, teachers need to realise that they learn best in a practical environment (Kyriacou, 1997). As practice demonstrates learning can be enhanced through out of school visits, for example museums can provide affluent resources for demonstrating historical events.
This form of teaching provides children with a hands-on opportunity to see how, where, and when certain people in the past lived, as well as helping them to comprehend certain aspects of their curriculum by relating it to images and artefacts. Children can be provided with objects and information about a central character in a certain topic, for instance King George IV’s reign, and a display of the main players within this historical topic can be useful as a form of reiteration, and act as catalysts for inquiring conversations (Cooper, 2000).
An example which is particularly effective with visual and kinaesthetic learners, is the use of video recordings of the children ‘acting out’ a specific time or event in history. Here, a specific topic is selected such as ‘The Vikings’, then children play out the roles of all the important characters within that topic of study, this makes it seem less rigid and more visual for the children, consequently heightening their chances of remembering (Kyriacou, 1997). ICT is incorporated in the teaching of history in a variety of ways.
Teachers can use websites made distinctly for the history curriculum, providing a pictorial view of past events and important historical figures, and provide activities that children can perform in groups or individually in order to understand a certain topic precisely. Examples of effective websites that teachers can use to incorporate ICT within their learning experience include: ‘The time trail’ – here children learn about important topics in the history curriculum through colourful displays. Quizam’ – this allows children to measure their understanding of the subject matter through quizzes on a variety of historical topics. There are also websites on ‘historical clothing’ where children learn about attire of yesteryear, and are then given instructions on how to make some of their own. According to the National Curriculum (NC) and Ofsted, more time should be allocated to mathematics, sciences and English. A subject in humanities like history does not receive the sort of ‘core’ treatment that the former three subjects receive.
Consequently, it becomes very difficult to fit in all the requirements of the NC within the limited time allocated for history (Ofsted, 2006). The mode of teaching in history needs to be organised in such a way that teachers maximise on limited time despite having a lot of material to teach (Kyriacou, 1997). Geography as a subject in the humanities is fundamental. Firstly, children learn about their location in relation to the rest of the world, and they learn how locations are affected by the environment and how they change with time.
They learn about the links that location and environment have with economic and social activities of the inhabitants (Barton & Walker, 1981). The most important and effective technique that teachers can use to instil geographical skills is through enquiry based approaches, which is upheld by professionals: “The best way to get the message across is though enquiry based activities” (Lisle, 2007) Here teachers’ select a certain question and use it as a baseline for teaching map work, field work, and thinking skills.
For example a teacher selects the topic ‘Their local wood’. The main questions that children can work around are: ‘Can houses be built in this wood? ‘ ‘What is the wood’s future? ‘ Such an enquiry will help children develop an understanding of the world around them, and develop skills in geography within a relevant context (Palmer, 2004), learning to relate how different aspects of a location can change with time. Children should start with simple tasks and resources, and as the weeks progress the tasks can change to become more complex.
For example, at the start the scales of maps are simple and even the maps themselves are quite easy to understand, however as time progresses, teachers should increase the level of geographical vocabulary, as well as asking the children to draw their own maps (Mills, 1987). By asking the children questions about their surrounding, they will develop communication skills by observing what they see and communicating their findings, and intellectual skills by relating patterns, colours and displays, to the question put forward to them, learning how to be creative in representing their findings pictorially through the use of maps (Mills, 1987).
Another effective form of delivery is through field trips, children can be taken to a chosen location near the school, and upon return the children can be asked to represent the images they saw through drawing maps, allowing them to choose their own symbols with a little guidance from the teacher (Stenhouse, 1975). ICT is incorporated into geography through a number of avenues.
It can be used as a tool for interaction between students coming from different locations, for example children in Britain can see for themselves how geographical features vary from their own to those in other countries, achieved through web cameras and programmes such as Google Earth. Using appropriate software, children can represent locations through maps and other images, allowing them to express their ideas.
They can conduct research using the internet which would be physically impossible by any other means, yet crucial in learning geography, finding out information on maps and geographical features that have been created especially for schools. Children are inspired by the images on display reinforcing their ability to remember them (Rodgers, & Streluk, 2002). ICT helps children manipulate data collected for class purposes (Galeton & Blyth, 1989), as practice shows a prime example being the creation of a class pictogram of results obtained by the children, and presented on an interactive white board.
Geography has received considerable attention from government agencies. The Ofsted annual report of 2006 highlights a variety of problems that exist in the teaching of geography. First of all, teachers are inadequately qualified for the tasks, and very few undergo training while on the job to improve their skills in the area. It should also be noted that most teachers equip children with minimal knowledge in the subject, and then expect too much from these very children, consequently performance is low (Ofsted, 2006).
Outdoor activities were also found to be inadequately done, most of them had very little relation to geographical ideas, and those that did had focused on scientific and nature related aspects, instead of focusing on investigation and communication about their outdoor world. Because of this lack of knowledge minimal time is allocated to this subject as teachers concentrate on subjects they feel more confident about (Moyles & Hargreaves, 1998).
Religious education plays a major role in child development, helping children in the maturity of their spiritual being. It also helps them understand why other groups behave the way they do as they learn about religious practices, this is endorsed in the ‘RE Non-statutory national framework, 2004′: “The key indicators of attainment in religious education are contained in two attainment targets … learning about religion… learning from religion” (p. 34)
In addition, children are equipped with a sense of right or wrong, as religions mould their character (Jackson, & Starkings, 1996), hence children are learning from religion. According to Ofsteds’ 2006 report, most schools were found to be complying with requirements in the religious education curriculum, however there were still problems highlighted, like the low expectations of teachers. There were relative weaknesses in assessment within the subject, and new technology was also poorly incorporated.
On the other hand, the majority of teachers followed the QCA guidelines and most of them were in line with requirements, with approximately two fifth of the schools in the UK taking their children for religious education field trips, such as mosques, churches, or temples (Ofsted, 2006), which provide a positive influence in their lives (Helsby & Saunders, 1993). Religious education can be taught through the relationships of holidays to events within religions, for example children learn the significance of Christmas in relation to the birth of Jesus.
Children who visit religious sites can be read narrations from religious books like the bible, (in this case teachers should make use of suitable versions of religious books made for children. Children’s bibles often have pictorial representations of some of the characters and this enforces remembrance) (Hughes, 1994). The World Wide Web can supply a rich source of resources that provide interactive learning environments about different religions, their similarities, and differences.
Sites of particular interest are: Staffordshire Learning Net – providing an education search facility specifically for RE, Coxhoe Primary School – packed with numerous resources not only for RE, but History, and Geography as well, and Topmarks – providing interactive and fun resources. All three humanities subjects develop through and alongside one another, providing children with the opportunity to grow socially and emotionally (Barton & Walker, 1981).
In religious education, they learn about other religions and why there peers and other individuals adhere to different types of faith, which incorporates geographical aspects, for example they are able to identify different locations and inhabitants throughout the world, and the dominant religion within a country, providing a sense of appreciation for the differences they see. Furthermore there is naturally a historical link to both geographical and religious subjects as both evolve and manifest through time, and neither can be studied effectively without considering the historical context (Flude & Hammer, 1990).
In Conclusion as practice attests, the humanities subjects do not take as much precedence as core subjects such as mathematics and sciences within our schools. It is therefore essential as professionals that we leave more time for these activities, and should also be equipped with greater knowledge in the subjects. A greater emphasis should also be made to uphold the relevance of outdoor and off site activities. Together these factors will go a considerable way to enhancing children’s capabilities within these areas of study.