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One of my kids’ favorite subjects over the years has been – hands down – geography.
Although my kids are all avid readers, there’s something about the hands-on and multi-sensory approaches and applications to “real life” of this subject that goes beyond books. There is a myriad of ways to teach geography, and an equal amount of fun, interesting and practical ways to apply it.
So if you have kiddos who may be asking “Why do we have to study geography?” or “How on earth (no pun intended!) will I be using geography when I grow up?”, here are some practical ways to teach the subject. Actually, with some of these approaches, unless you tell them, they won’t even realize they are learning geography!
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Connect it to holidays as they occur
- Locate Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, map out the history of Santa Claus (or at least how he’s been interpreted in other countries), July 4th could lend itself to finding England on a map of Europe (as in who-we-broke-away-from) or the cities of our 2 other US capitols before D.C. (do you know where they were?) on a US blackline map, or even Israel for Passover or Hanukah…
Watch the news…with a map at hand
- CNN Student News has a daily news program on the internet that presents stories your child will most likely hear, see or read on other adult news sources, and “translates” them into short, easier-to-understand summaries. They cover US and world events, so print out a blank blackline map or two, have a box of colored pencils handy, and map out where the stories are located each day!
Make connections to family and friends
- We support a number of friends in world missions, so I put up this world map in a spare bedroom, and we’ve pinned where they’re all located. But even if you don’t know missionaries in other countries, you can locate friends, or become penpals and locate them, or use a US map and make connections to those closer to home.
Explore your family’s geneology
- Most families in the US have some starting point for their family roots outside the US. Have your kids spend some time talking to grandma or grandpa and discovering how far back they can remember and what country their “grands” may have come from! And, of course, there are wonderful on-line tools to do further research.
Take advantage of family game night
- Need some games that emphasize geographic learning? Here are some geography games for starters:
Take advantage of family movie night
- Whether you explore Netflix or the local video store, see if you can come up with some family-friendly movies that take place in other countries. You can use it as a basis for a unit study, or at the very least, print out a map of that country and see if you can find some of the cities mentioned, or the land forms, or rivers or mountains or famous landmarks, or… There are 2 really good Facebook groups built around the subject of using Netflix and Amazon here and here, and InstantWatcher.com is a search engine site where you can find streaming videos through a variety of filters.
Start a Flat Stanley-type project
- When our 2 older kids were younger, we lived in a community where volunteers were constantly coming and going from around the world. What an exciting time for geography studies! We bought a small, stuffed bear that came with a backpack, tucked a small notebook in it, and asked our friends who were leaving to pass it around as they traveled. Inside the notebook, we asked the person who had it on a certain date to mail it back to us. It was like Christmas when he came home! The backpack contained pictures, small souvenirs, and notes from people all over the world. And we had such fun mapping out his travels 🙂 Today, of course, “there’s an app for that”, so you could probably replicate this project with a little more high-tech involved!
- Geocaching is the process of using satellite technology to locate finds, or “caches.” Caches can range from Tupperware containers to tackle boxes to coffee cans. Reading and using the coordinates shown (which appear when you get close to your find) will help your kids understand the real-life connecting between lines of longitude and latitude and just how specifically they identify an exact location.
- ….or discover a recipe or two from another country and get in the kitchen! “Foods of the World” (left) is a great series, and all 5 books are available for Kindle download for a whopping $1.98! Each of the 5 books in the set highlights foods from a region of the world: Asia, Europe, Middle East, North America and South America. A great way to introduce world culture studies…all because of a simple, US favorite!!
Take (or at least plan!) a family vacation or short-term mission trip
- Explore places by looking through National Geographic, or Googling foreign countries, or checking with traveling friends your church where there may be some foreign mission destinations, and plot your adventure! Whether or not it comes to pass, you’ll have a great time exploring geography together and learning tons…
Don’t forget International Day!
- Are you a member of a homeschool co-op? If not, why not gather a group of friends and have fun putting an International Day* together? Sometimes all it takes is learning with friends to put a different spin on the process… *Details coming soon!
My favorite source for blackline maps, which you can use for many of these projects, comes from Bright Ideas Press. Their WonderMaps contain oodles of maps, both contemporary and historical. Check out the short video on their website to see all the ways you can format the maps to adapt to whatever use you’re planning!
If, after going through some or all of these ideas, you still find that you need or would like to try a tried-and-true curriculum, one of our favorite curriculum also comes from Bright Ideas Press. Their NorthStar program is available as a hard-copy book, or as an audiobook if you’re comfortable with self-paced studies, and recently they introduced it as an on-line course. What is really cool, however, is that you can get the geography curriculum in a bundle with the maps! (Saves money and helps you get the full value out of both programs 😉 !)
In this digital age, as our world appears to get smaller and smaller – or at least more reachable – geography is even more so an important subject matter to cover. As we become more familiar with people and places from far and wide, it’s crucial to have a context within which to make connections.
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It’s never too late to start learning about the world we live in – as a matter of fact, now’s a great time!