With the internet opening up the world like never before, the need for our kids to understand the world is growing right alongside it. Whether we like it or not, we live in an increasingly global community, so the need to teach our kids geography and world cultures becomes more and more important every day.
But what is the best way to teach geography? Sometimes it seems like geography is just finding things on maps and memorizing unusual vocabulary. But geography should be much more than that—and much more fun! After teaching geography for several years to elementary ages, I’ve narrowed the key essentials down to these:
First, geography should introduce actual countries using good books or the internet. This takes geography from abstract ideas to concrete people and places that kids can relate to. Choose countries from the same continent before moving on to another continent. This helps keep your child’s frame of reference in place and avoids confusion!
Second, keep it short. You want to get familiar with the culture and landscape, including unique plants and animals, without getting overwhelming. Hit the highlights. If you are using a fact-based book, look at the pictures and read the captions and the bits of information in bold print. Skip the government and history sections unless there’s an obvious reason not to. Keep it fun and fascinating.
Third, do some short activities with flags and maps. Flags are fun, and maps provide an opportunity to point out new geography words and definitions in an engaging way. Find the Equator and show why some countries are warm and some are not. Explain the Ring of Fire when your country is a part of it and draw it in. Point out an archipelago when your theme country has that. Play “I Spy” with clues that use the words north, south, east, and west.
Then have kids write about what they’ve learned. Or you write down what a younger child dictates. What do the children remember from the books you’ve looked at or the pictures you’ve seen? What did they think was most fascinating about this country? What were their favorite animals? Would they want to live in this place, and why or why not? Again, keep it short and simple.
Last, a hands-on craft or project is always fun. Kids could color a coloring page or make a craft based on some unique feature related to the country they’re studying. Writing the name of the country on the project also helps them remember things they’ve learned.
Teaching geography includes maps, but it is much more than maps. The world is a big place, and kids should understand that there are many languages, cultures, and surroundings that are far different from their own. Exploring the world through geography should be an exciting adventure to share with your child.
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Carol Henderson taught her 5 now-grown children for over 25 years as a homeschooling mom. She currently enjoys teaching elementary history and geography in a large homeschool co-op. She spends many hours creating activities and crafts each week for these classes, which are published in her geography curriculum at LetsGoGeography.com and on her history website, ABookInTime.com.