Geography is a subject that is often overlooked in school. Students get bits and pieces, but many graduate without the ability to locate major landmarks or cities easily on a map.
The study of geography can lead to a deeper understanding of our world and goes far beyond simply being able to point out Rome or Mount Everest quickly. What’s more, you can find geography lessons hidden in all sorts of other subject matters—from the arts to literature to science to math. It’s all happening somewhere, right?
The good news is that teaching your children about geography is as simple as making it part of the conversation and the environment at home. With just a little focus on the subject matter, your children will come to love geography and develop a natural appreciation for and curiosity about the world around them.
Hang Maps in Your Home
The easiest way to dramatically increase your children’s knowledge of geography is simply to hang maps at home. Hang a number of them in prominent places. You can find beautiful ones that enhance your decor, but make sure they are legible and accurate.
You will find that their curious little minds can’t help but look at the map often. Over time, they’ll take it all in.
Lettice Barnum, a homeschooling mom of five from San Angelo, Texas, highly recommends putting up maps. She said, “We have one of the United States and one of the world hanging up in our playroom. You would be surprised at how many conversations it has sparked with not only our children but other kids and adults too!”
Dominique Lessard, a travel blogger and mom of a 5-year-old, from Quebec said, “A lot of rooms in our house have world maps hanging on their walls as a constant reminder of not only where we are located in this big beautiful world, but also to raise awareness that it’s important to accept and live happily with all our differences, and also that we are living a very privileged life.”
She added, “In my opinion, teaching geography is the entry door to widening our kids’ ability to feel and express gratitude for what is given to them.”
Want to kick it up a notch? Add globes and atlases. Keep them out where they can be seen. “There are some wonderful atlases for kids that have maps they’ll love to explore,” said Crystal Paschal, a former teacher and mom of three from Indianapolis. She highly recommends the “National Geographic Kids Beginner’s World Atlas.”
With these resources around, you’ll find your children will start to have lots of questions about all kinds of places. And when they read or hear about a place, they’ll run to the map to find out where it is!
Kids can quickly “piece” together their geography knowledge by playing with puzzles. There are a number of wooden puzzles for kids illustrating the map of the United States or the world.
“Puzzles are amazing tools as well,” Barnum said. “Both younger and older children in my experiences enjoy them.”
There are a plethora of documentaries, not simply focused on geography (though Smithsonian Channel’s “Aerial America” is outstanding), but about anything that can be related back to geography.
“We love to watch documentary-style shows from all over the world … cooking shows, travel shows, nature shows,” said Vida Mercer, a writer and homeschooling mom of two from Roseville, California. “I always make it a point to show (the children) where the places in the shows are.”
Whenever possible, travel to different places with your children. Such practical education can’t hold a candle to what they manage to pick up in school.
When you’re planning your trips, involve your children. Consult a map—a local map if you’re traveling an hour away and a world map if you’re traveling internationally.
Trace the route you’ll take on the map, the places you’ll pass or fly over, the landmarks you’ll visit, the bodies of water, the mountain ranges you’ll see, and the major cities you’ll pass through.
Let the Kids Navigate
Give Siri a break and hand a physical map to the kids in the back seat and let them tell you how to get to your destination.
Very young children may not be ready for such a task, but you can start small. Perhaps you need to reach the store around the corner and you have a map of your town you can use with them.
Older kids with some map reading experience can take the reins on full-fledged road trips.
“Kids love being in charge,” said Jim Wasserman, a father of two grown boys and writer in Granada, Spain. “On trips to places that had maps (amusement parks, botanical gardens), the boys got the maps and had to plan the route. Eventually this upgraded to visiting cities and letting the boys figure out how to get us from where we were to our tourist destination. (They loved subway maps).”
Hands-on learning sticks and it’s fun. Just pack an extra dose of patience.
When reading a new story, find out where the author is from and locate the story’s setting on your map. When learning about any famous historical figure, find out where they were from and have the children point to it on the map. When hearing about a current event in the news, head to the map to check out where it is happening.
History, art, music, scientific discoveries all happen somewhere by people who were born somewhere. Ask where. Train your children to ask where. As they grow, the dots will keep on connecting.
Start at Home
“Start with where you are,” Paschal said. “Show your children your state and city on the map. From there you can branch out to places you’ve visited or places where other family members live. Then start dreaming about where you could travel! When you start by making it personal, you get kids invested.”