6 Ways to Let Curiosity Guide Your Geography StudiesApril Elstrom
My children love geography, but they don’t know it. If you ask them, they’ll even say they hate geography. What they are really saying is that they dislike a systematic approach to geography that begins with a textbook and ends with memorization and busywork. But I’ve seen them run to the map when they have a question. I’ve seen their excitement over a new globe. I know they actually have a natural love for geography and a curiosity about other cultures.
This school year, I put greater emphasis on the study of geography. My more thorough approach to geography backfired on me. I was squelching their natural curiosity. Thus I decided to step back from the curriculum I’d purchased and encourage their love of geography in these six more relaxed and natural ways.
1. Wall Maps
From the time my oldest daughter was in Kindergarten, we have had a world map and a United States map hanging on a wall of our home. Since our dining room doubles as our school room, we currently have a world map on the dining room wall. Our United States map is on the dining room table, under a clear tablecloth. When a new place is mentioned in a book, on the news, or in conversation, the children naturally migrate to the dining room to locate it on the map.
Our family is a little hard on globes. Children’s hands search for familiar countries, and little hands spin the earth around and around. Eventually the globe’s axis tilts even more, it develops a wobble, and finally, the stand falls off. Our globes would probably last longer if I kept them out of reach, but then my children wouldn’t be able to explore on their own.
I used to spend hours searching the internet for printable maps, or standing with our textbook crammed into the photocopier to try to get a decent copy of the map in the book. WonderMaps has saved me all that trouble. Now I can easily print off historical maps as well as modern maps to supplement our studies. I can choose to leave names of countries, rivers, cities on the map, or remove them all for a blank-line map. It’s a wonderful resource for historical studies and modern geography, and it enables me to act quickly on their interest. With the latest WonderMaps update, you can edit your maps right on your computer with Adobe Reader.
4. Children’s Atlases
It might be an addiction, but I have eight different children’s atlases on my school shelf as well as an atlas of ancient times. When one of my children asks about a country, we are usually able to find information in one these reference books. When that fails, we turn to our encyclopedias or the Internet. Nothing makes me happier than when I see my reading children go through those steps on their own. When curiosity fuels research, you know that the learning will stick!
5. Books about Cultures
Our home library includes quite a few children’s books about different cultures. When my children become curious about a country, we head to the maps and then we head to these books. We look for information on the language, the climate, and religious beliefs. We examine pictures of the people, their homes, and their clothing. It can never compare to visiting another country, but my children can begin to see the wonderful differences in the world God created.
The most important thing to encourage your children to love geography is a willingness to help them explore. Rather than spending 30-50 minutes every day reading from a textbook and assigning map study, you need to be willing to stop what you’re doing to explore a map or culture when the question arises. You need to seize the teachable moment and be flexible. Maybe your kids won’t get to their grammar book today because their history lesson turned into an extended exploration of a country or culture instead. That’s okay. No, that’s great!
If you want to be more intentional about geography, you can use a unit study approach or focus on one country or continent a month. Gather some interesting resources and let their curiosity lead the way. As children get older, they need less help finding this information, especially if you’ve taught them how to find the information themselves. Encourage them to explore their natural curiosity about the world and its cultures. Set the example by using your maps and learning about other countries and cultures, as well. Geography isn’t merely a subject to check off the school schedule. It’s the lifelong study of the world God made and the people that live in it.