I've always loved geography, but I wasn't very good at it until we started homeschooling. In fact, I've learned more in the last three years about geography than I did in all my years in school, including five years of college!
My two oldest kids, currently ages 9 and 10, have learned most of their geography knowledge without the use of a formal geography curriculum. In fact, most of the time all we used was a set of 3 by 5 index cards, an outline map of the world, and a couple of toothpicks (to use as pointers on the map). Of course, we also have a great atlas, a large world map on the wall in our hallway (to which I constantly send them whenever we hear a country mentioned on TV that we haven't studied yet), as well as a good globe that we refer to often.
I started off at the very first by teaching them about landforms. We made up a set of index cards with the names of the landforms, and we learned them like flashcards. I would explain what each landform was as I turned over each card, and then I'd go through the deck again, asking them to repeat back to me the correct description. We also picked up a poster at the store that illustrated the major landforms which was a great way to reinforce the concepts.
Here's a list of some of the landforms/geography terms we studied in particular:
- isthmus (this is where I'd break out in song: "All I want for 'isthmus' is my two front teeth!")
- mountain range
- rain forest
I then began teaching the kids the names of different places on the map by starting big, and then proceeding to smaller, more specific areas. First I taught them the names of the continents and the oceans; then we moved on to the smaller places, such as bays, seas, and gulfs, major mountain ranges, rivers, deserts, countries, and major cities.
My method of teaching was simple. I wrote the names of the geographic locations that I wanted them to learn on the index cards (such as Europe or the Black Sea, etc.), then I pointed to the specific place on the map and we learned the names and location together.
The key, however, was the competition; that's where the real learning and long-term retention occurred.
I had the kids compete with each other to see who could name or find the location correctly…and faster! And it was amazing how competing with each motivated them to learn the locations correctly, without complaining.
We'd do our actual geography competitions a couple different ways.
Sometimes I'd split the deck of index cards into two stacks, giving them each a stack, then they'd take turns turning over a card and pointing to the location on the outline map with their toothpick. If they located it correctly, they kept the card; if they didn't, the other person had the opportunity to "steal" it by finding the location. If they didn't find it either, then I got to keep the card (after I pointed out the correct location, of course).
At other times I would have the whole stack, then I'd turn over a card, point at the location on the map, and the first one to name it correctly would "win the card."
Once a set of locations was learned, I would add a few more cards (geographic locations) to the deck and then we'd repeat the game. I would generally add 7-10 new locations at a time, but it didn't take long before we had about 175 cards that we played with.
I didn't follow a specific list of geographic locations when I added new cards to the list, but I did keep my ear open for new locations to learn, such as in the news or in our reading—especially history. When I heard of or thought of a new location to learn, I'd make up a card for it and set it aside so it would be ready to add to our working deck when the kids were ready for it.
I also pulled some of our locations from lists in various geography books (like the largest lakes, the highest mountains, the longest rivers, etc.).
At one time I made out cards for the highest point on each continent and we learned those—both the name of the mountain and the country in which it was located. That particular set of cards was a little harder to learn because we had to learn and remember how to pronounce Aconcagua and Kosciusko. That was where the geographic dictionary at the back of our Webster's dictionary came in handy!
Sometime last year, a homeschooling friend asked me for a list of the geographic locations that we had been working on, so I made up the following list, organized by the type of location. It's definitely not a comprehensive list of all geographic locations (obviously), but it's a good place to start if you're teaching your kids geography without a formal curriculum.
BODIES OF WATER
North Atlantic Ocean
North Pacific Ocean
South Atlantic Ocean
South Pacific Ocean
East China Sea
Sea of Japan
Sea of Okhotsk
South China Sea
Bay of Bengal
Bay of Biscay
Gulf of Alaska
Gulf of Bothnia
Gulf of California
Gulf of Guinea
Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of St. Lawrence
Strait of Gibralter
Straits of Florida
Highest per continent
Mt. Aconcagua (Argentina)
Mt. El’brus (Western Russia)
Mt. Everest (Nepal)
Mt. Kilimanjaro (Tanzania)
Mt. Kosciusko (Australia)
Mt. McKinley (Alaska, U.S.A.)
Great Dividing Range
Hindu Kush Mountains
Cyprus (Republic of)
I will end this incredibly long and boring post by saying that my children do not remember everything they learned with this method, but they've probably retained at least 90%. And what's more, if they hear of a country or location that they are not familiar with, they know how to use an atlas to look it up—and they're not afraid to do it. And that falls right in line with my basic philosophy of education—you know, the whole "Give a man a fish/Teach a man to fish" thing.
It's appalling to hear how many people today are so geographically illiterate, especially when it is so easy to learn, if you just take the time to learn it. You don't need a fancy curriculum; just get a good map or atlas and a set of index cards, and you're set!
- Check out my geography links in my sidebar at the right for some great online geography resources.
- The Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide is also a fantastic all-in-one book (K-12) that is very helpful for homeschoolers who want to teach their children geography without being tied to an expensive curriculum.
- Seterra is a free, downloadable geography program that you can use on your PC. It's a great way to have your kids practice on their own.
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Image by odalaigh