March 30, 2020

9 Ways to Teach Geography

Recently, I visited an online Facebook group where this question was asked, “I’m wondering what great books/resources you all have found to help with learning World Geography.“

I love geography and have loved it since I was a young child. This love probably comes from traveling across a vast continent in our aqua blue Ford convertible, from the Midwest to the west coast, then flying (in a military transport plane) across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii, where I spent my childhood. I loved to hike in the mountains and comb the beach in my youth. 

My love for geography continued to grow as homeschooled and I shared this love with my children.

Nine Ways We Have Enjoyed Geography...


1. Living Geography: 

When I was nine, my fire for geography began to be fanned  by having pen pals in diverse places as a child- Nice, France; Oslo, Norway; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; Benton Harbor, Michigan, Beverly Hills, California; and Ceylon, later Sri Lanka. Now I live in a high mountain valley over 4,000 feet above sea level. I have homeschool my children and have found many other ways to enjoy geography. 

Another way to do living geography is through doing family history.  As you study and discover your progenitors, you begin to learn about the places they lived and the history of those areas. You learn about migration and often learn the circumstances, the hopes, and dreams that led to those migrations. Family history can draw you in to studying geography and make it come alive for your children.

2. Dining Table Geography:

We do Dining Table Geography. Here is a tutorial on how to set it up.  

Years ago we remodeled our kitchen and it left nowhere to place our maps for school.  One day I took the maps out to look at them.  Because they were laminated and rolled up, they were curled and would not lay flat. I got out my blow dryer to relax the maps flat.  My daughter asked, “What is this?  National Treasure?”  That instant I realized the map needed to be right there on the table. I went to Walmart and bought a vinyl table cloth and medium weight clear vinyl just long enough to drape about nine inches off each end of the table. Today, I thought I would take pictures to show you what I did.  

The map comes in handy when we are studying “Currents in Time” (current events), Bible study, What Happened On this Day in History? Power of an Hour: Gateway to a Claassical Education, and at other interesting times. We learn from the map before us, as we eat.  We notice things we might never have noticed. “Dining Table Geography” is a great way to spark interest in the study of Geography.” 

3. Online Geography Games:

We found a website that we used to help us familiarize ourselves with the political geographic boundaries of our world, and very helpful in memorizing the locations and capitals of both states and countries. My oldest daughter went off to college before we started “dining table geography.” We now do “dining table geography” in our home. But living with a map and knowing where to find places is not enough!

4. Puzzles:

When my oldest daughter was born, my father let my oldest son, then four, pick any toy in the toy store. My son picked a large wooden map puzzle. When we got home grandpa saw it was recommended for children 7-12 year olds and suggested to me in front of my son, to put it away for a few years. Never under estimate children! Well, my son waited until we were not watching. He took the puzzle into his room, figured it out, and taught his two year old brother how to put it together. About an hour later they came from their room and dumped the puzzle on the floor in front of my dad and I. My dad said, “See, I told you to put it up, he does not understand what a puzzle is.” Then my son looked to his just barely two year old brother and excitedly said, “Show grandpa!” The two year old started to assemble the puzzle. When he got to Minnesota he stopped and puzzled. Without thinking I said, “it goes next to Wisconsin.” Really? How would a two year old know where Wisconsin is? I had never told either of my sons the names of the states. He promptly said, “Oh yeah,” and then placed the piece where it belonged. Needless to say, grandpa retracted his suggestion.

We also have a puzzle of the Flags of the World, as my third son loved geography so much he had learned and drew all the world flags when he was 10. He also loved puzzles, so we later found this puzzle for him. They were having the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah and our city put out international flags for ambiance; My son began to laugh, “why is there a Philippine flag, do they have a bobsled team too?”

As my boys grew we bought National Geographic’s Global Pursuit game and my children were both surprised and impressed that mom and dad knew so much about geography. Dad won the first round because he knew the capital of Iceland!

5. Culture Night:

My sister-in-law, Beatrice (Bea), would pick a nation to spotlight to her family every fifth Monday evening. Bea cooked the food of that country for dinner, played the music, decorated, showed maps, talked about their history. I went to a nine course Chinese dinner at her house when my oldest children were toddlers and my children ate everything!

6. Virtual Vacations:

Nancy Young is the wife of artist, Al Young. She created virtual vacations! She would print up the itinerary, get a “boring” travel video from the library, music, and make believe they were at a hotel in that country, complete with gift baskets with tiny toiletries placed in their bedrooms, and meals with foods one would expect to eat there. Now a lot of this is on line and you can take virtual vacations and field trips online!

7. Classic Ideas:

I love how Gene Stratton Porter said that geography should be taught:

“Schoolhouses are made wrong. If they must be, they should be built in a woods pasture beside a stream, where you could wade, swim, and be comfortable in summer, and slide and skate in winter. The windows should be cut to the floor, and stand wide open, so the birds and butterflies could pass through. You ought to learn your geography by climbing a hill, walking through a valley, wading creeks, making islands in them, and promontories, capes, and peninsulas along the bank. You should do your arithmetic sitting under trees adding hickory nuts, subtracting walnuts, multiplying butternuts, and dividing hazelnuts. You could use apples for fractions, and tin cups for liquid measure. You could spell everything in sight and this would teach you the words that are really used in the world.”

8. Family Travel:

We have taken a lot of cross country trips visiting church history sites, family history, and US history sites, and seeing a lot of real geography! In 1996 we took six children ages seventeen months to seventeen years, on a 12,000 mile cross country camping trip in our big 11 passenger GMC van. We drove across the Rockies from Utah to Colorado, then across the Great Plains states to Missouri. We drove up the shore of the Mississippi to Illinois, then south to the Gulf Coast, and through Florida all the way to Key West. We zig-zaged up to Nova Scotia to the Bay of Fundy where there is the world’s highest tides. Then we ferried to Prince Edward, Canada and then began our journey home. Oh yes, there was a lot of seeing and learning along the way. The trip was dubbed Mom and Dad’s Great Adventure. Their mantra was “Been there, done that, took a picture and left.” 

In 2005, we traveled north and did a National Parks trip- Yellow Stone, Glacier, Jasper-Banff, Washington and Oregon Coasts, Red Woods, down the Mendocino Coast, Sequoias, and Yosemite. In the summer of 2006, we drove up the Pacific Coast Highway from San Diego to the bay area. That fall we went east again for my nephew’s wedding. We drove from here to the wedding in Chicago, stopping and experiencing history along the way and then on to Ohio for more history.

In 2006 autumn, we drove to Mesa Verde, Colorado, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and down to Los Cruces, New Mexico, then back home through the Grand Canyon. Oh, there have been other trips too, but these were the big ones. My children got to experience sea shores, the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Gulf Coast, the Mississippi river, Missouri River, the Columbia River, the Bay of Fundy, Great Lakes, and many smaller water ways. They also experienced tundra and plains, forests, and deserts, Appalachia, Rockies and more.

9. Shared and Self-Directed Study:

I want my children to know a little more than the name, location, and capitals of the world. What language do they speak? What is the physical geography and climate? What else is remarkable about the country? I remember when I was in sixth grade we studied world explorers, world geography, and I loved it! I retained what I did because I had pen pals all over the globe and because I loved to go to the library and research about the different countries and make reports about those countries and salt dough topographical maps. Building on this love and idea that children remember what they dig out for themselves, I created the Book of Nations. What is a Book of Nations (BoN)? The Book of Nations is a binder prepared by a mother, family, or individual student, to accompany the study of physical and political geography. The BoN is a place for drawings of flags, maps and other remarkable knowledge the scholar might want to remember from their studies. When places are mentioned in the news or in a book, they can also add new information in their BoN about that place. The BoN is a dynamic Language Arts integrated, continually growing hands on, student created Geography resource. 

Living Geography at its best! Why settle for geography from a book? All these just make geography come alive…

Enjoy the Journey!

Each month, I write newsletters with helpful tips that impact homeschool moms on topics such as: homeschooling, homeculture, momculture, and home management. I also inform moms of site news, upcoming events, new products, and special offers.

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