One of the first things children seem to learn when they study geography in school is the names of the state capitals. It's generally considered a staple in a child's elementary curriculum, whether in public school or homeschool.
And really I don't have a problem with kids learning the state capitals. There's nothing wrong with learning them.
What I do have a problem with is this: Teaching children the state capitals is often considered more important than other, more useful knowledge.
I mean, which of the following would be more useful for a person to know?
1. In which state Seattle or Philadelphia is located (and where those states are located on the map)
2. That Olympia and Harrisburg are the capitals of Washington and Pennsylvania.
How many kids can rattle off the names of the state capitals without a problem, but they can't tell you that Detroit is located in Michigan or even locate the state of Michigan on a map?
If a child learns nothing but how to match up the state names with their capitals, what has it profited them? Not much of anything.
So while I don't actually oppose teaching state capitals, I don't think that it should be made a priority in a quality geography education.
More Useful Geography Knowledge
Before learning the state capitals, I think children should learn several other things first. In my opinion, the knowledge in the list below is far more useful in real life than knowing the state capitals:
- The names and spellings of all 50 states
- Each state's location on the map
- The names and locations of the major cities in the U.S.
- The postal abbreviations of each of the states
If children first concentrate on learning the information on the list, they'll be better prepared for real life. Then once all that is learned, they can feel free to learn the state capitals.
So how do I teach these geography concepts to my own kids? I'll share a few of my favorite resource:
1. Maps, Maps, and More Maps
When a state or U.S. city is mentioned on the news or in a book we're reading, I have my kids look it up on a map (of course, this is on an ideal homeschool day, so it doesn't happen all the time). To make this easier, we have a world map on the wall in our hallway as well as a U.S. map on the wall in Joely's room.
Seterra is a free, downloadable software program that makes learning the names of the states, and especially the locations of major U.S. cities, a breeze.
3. Sheppard Software Geography Games
Sheppard Software has several interactive activities to learn state names and locations. But beware. The games are addictive!
4. Postal Abbreviations eBook
My free ebook, Learn the States and Postal Abbreviations, is a great way to teach your kids both the names and locations of the states as well as the U.S. postal abbreviations. I used this method with my own kids and it worked great.