Four Ways to Sneak in Geography Learning While Traveling

Four Ways to Sneak in Geography Learning While Traveling • Bright Ideas Press

The kids and I recently spent eleven jam-packed days traveling through the Western United States on our first road trip ever.

Now, what’s the first thing a homeschool mom does when she thinks about going or doing or seeing anything?

That’s right, the moment we said “road trip,” I immediately asked myself, “How can I make this educational?” You know, in a non-obvious, subtle, sneaky kind of way. What better time to learn a little geography than while you are driving through it?

Many people have the misconception the study of geography consists mainly of learning the locations and names of cities, states, countries, and landforms. This is simply not true. Geography is so much more.

Tyler Hogan, in the first lesson of North Star Geography, simplifies what geography is for us: “Simply put, geography is the study of the world and the things and people in it.” He further explains that this not only includes map skills and locations, but also the study of earth science, sociology, government, and culture.

How are we going to sneak all that in? Well, there are some really easy ways we can get our kids thinking outside of their personal box, out of their cell phones, and looking at the bigger picture. Here are four sources for sneaky geography learning while traveling.

1. Make the Most of Maps

Maps are the most obvious and one of the easiest ways to sneak one element of geography into your traveling. Get your kids involved in the planning. Let them help plan the road trip — the roads and interstates you will take and the cities you will drive through. As you’re traveling, let them be the navigator or get them involved in tracking how far you have traveled or how far you still need to go. A few specific tips:

  • Teach your kids how to use Google Maps to help plan shorter/faster routes, avoid tollways, and watch for roads that are closed for the season. Knowing how to use Google Maps is a necessary, modern-day, atlas skill.
  • Pull out physical maps or a good road atlas, such as the 2016 Rand McNally Road Atlas–a nice, durable, large-scale atlas great for study and travel. Learn how to read and use the atlas before your trip as you review and plan your routes.
  • Use the website Roadtrippers.com to help plan activities and stops along your route, discovering local and cultural attractions.
  • As you research and plan with your various map references, pay attention to cities, road names, and exit numbers. Look up the topography and elevation for places you are traveling through and discuss how mile markers and interstate numbering works.
  • While traveling using GPS guidance on your phone, let your kids watch the Google Maps for turns, road delays and construction. Letting your kids help navigate will help them remember how you got from point A to point B.
  • Print maps of the states you are traveling through so your kids can draw your route as you go. (If you use WonderMaps, you can customize any of the 60+ maps of the U.S.)
  • Regardless of whether you plan on using GPS or not, take that road atlas with you! I recall one trip where I passed time with my bored son by teaching him how to use the map to figure out what city was next and how far away it would be and then recalculating for the next city and the next.

2. Use Wikipedia and Google

Oh, Google! Thank goodness we don’t have to carry entire encyclopedia sets around with us. Since we have this great technology available to us, let’s use it!

As you travel around from city to city and state to state, research anything that strikes your fancy. This is interest-led learning; it isn’t planned. Always be on the watch for things to look up and learn. When a kid asks a question, find an answer. Google landmarks, towns, geological formations, and other interesting things along your route to discover history, cultural information, etc.

Don’t believe me? On our road trip we learned how deep the Bottomless Lakes in New Mexico are and how they were formed. We learned there is a booming cattle industry in Idaho with dairy production surpassing potatoes —who knew? We also learned about the rather genius Oregon project to turn marshland into farmland and were surprised to learn that the Oregon coast was bombed during World War II!

We looked up mountains, volcanoes, cities we drove through, main crop industries in various states and all sorts of interesting, geographical, nuggets of information. 

  • Want to know more about Route 66, the route it took, and when it was decommissioned? Google it!
  • Want to know how the Grand Canyon was formed? Google it!
  • Want to know how tall the Rocky Mountains are, how salty the Great Salt Lake is, or where the Continental Divide is? You know what to do. 

3. Road Trip Scavenger Hunts

This may be the most entertaining car game we played on our road trip. It wasn’t only fun, though, it was also educational. My mother and I created multiple scavenger hunt lists as we went; as we completed one, we made another.

There are two great benefits of playing road trip scavenger hunts as you travel.

  • First, this gets your kids looking out the windows at the landscapes, cities, people, and things around them.
  • Second, knowing your route, you can plant cultural and geographical items into your list.

When traveling through the southwest you can watch for adobe houses; when traveling through farmlands you can watch for orchards or even specific crops. You get the idea. Mix some new things in with familiar things and your kids will learn as they go!

4. Take Advantage of Books & Movies

Before you go, take the opportunity to prime your kids with relevant books and movies. Anything that relates in any way, culturally or geographically.

I think most kids enjoy recognizing things they have learned about. Driving through the southwest and the Painted Desert, my kids excitedly recognized landscapes seen in the animated movie Cars. They also recognized the name Route 66, which led to a real discussion about the famous highway and the real plight of real small towns that were hit hard when Interstate 40 was built.

More importantly, watching relevant movies and reading good books gives your kids cultural hooks to hang all the new information on. Is it enough to know where the Oregon trail is or just that Lewis and Clarke were two explorers? I don’t think so. 

If you get creative, you can find some good books for your kids to read before you go that will help give them some geographical background on where you are traveling, both physically and culturally.

5. One Extra Tip —Don’t fret about it. Make it fun!

You are not going to be able to cram every single, possible, geographical, educational, opportunity into one road trip. 

But there will be a lot that you can do, very easily, to make your road trip fun and educational at the same time. Whatever you can do, however much you can sneak in, is worth it. Every little bit will help bring your kids up out of their own little space and open their mind to the great, big, amazing world around them, and all that is in it. And that’s enough. Isn’t that what geography is after all is said and done?

Please feel free to share your own tips for sneaky road trip geography in the comments below. And happy road-tripping!

2015 Summer Road Trip

In honor of the tradition of the family summer road trip, North Star Geography  is on sale July 1-15, 2015 for 15% off (hardback version only).

July 1-15, 2015; 15% off North Star Geography hardback

Get More Road Trip Goodness by Following Our Special Pinterest Board

Follow Bright Ideas Press’s board Road Trip Learning for Homeschool Families on Pinterest.

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Learning Geography with the National Park Passport Program

Learning Geography with the National Park Passport Program

Have you heard of the National Park Passports? These nifty little passport booklets are a clever way for the National Park Service to encourage patrons to visit National Parks around the country while proceeds are directed back into protecting the parks and educating visitors.

But for homeschool moms, the National Park Passport books and iPhone app are a gateway lesson to unraveling the geography of our vast and diverse nation.

National Park Passport

Use your National Parks Passport to log all the interesting places you visit!

What is the National Park Passport Program?

Simply put, the passport program is a set of collector stamps and booklets that are available for sale at every National Park gift shop. Your passport booklet can be stamped (or cancelled) at every National Park you visit, just like a traveler’s passport.

Additionally, the booklet contains a list of every single National Park in the country with pictures, facts and information about some of them. There are pages for collector’s stamps, park cancellations, and whatever else you want to scribble, tape, or paperclip into it.

The booklets are relatively inexpensive, and you could easily purchase one for everybody, or you can keep one passport for the whole family. We just happened to overhear someone asking about the passport books at our very first National Park visit on our recent road trip. We bought one for all of us to share and made a point to collect every cancellation we could along our route.

The passport book comes with a map of National Parks and lists of parks by region.

The passport book comes with a map of National Parks and lists of parks by region.

How to Use the Passport

Using the passports couldn’t be any easier. Every National Park will have a cancellation stamp at their visitor center. Some parks, such as the Grand Canyon National Park, have more than one.

The cancellation stamps are self-serve. Find the stamping station at the visitor’s center, make sure the date is correct and stamp your cancellation on the corresponding page.

The National Park Passport booklet is divided by color sections into regions. At the end of each section are numerous blank pages for the collector stamps and cancellations. It’s up to you how you want to organize your booklet.

The collector’s stamps are intended to be added to the passport booklet as well. If you want to add those, too, or buy them and keep them separately, whichever you prefer.

National Park Passport Tips & Suggestions

The passport program is simple, but I do have just a few tips.

  • Some sites, such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the Grand Canyon, are open outside of Visitor Center hours. To get your cancellation, make sure you plan your visit while the Visitor Center is open. 
  • If you visit a National Park and don’t get your passport cancelled for any reason, you can mail in a piece of paper and they will stamp it and mail it back. You can then add it to your passport book.
  • If your kids are making keepsake books, scrapbooks, or notebooks of your vacation, take a noteblock or memo cube along on your vacation. At each park you visit you can stamp a piece of paper for each child that wants one. 
  • Some State Parks have cancellation stamps, too. We discovered this at the Great Salt Lake at Antelope Island. It never hurts to ask!
  • Check out their FAQ page for more information.

 

All National Parks have cancellation stamps - and some State Parks do, too! You could even add your own notes for other interesting sites.

All National Parks have cancellation stamps – and some State Parks do, too! You could even add your own notes for other interesting sites.

Connecting it to Geography

So how can we use this fun keepsake to our educational benefit?

  1. Passport books are divided into regions. Plan a road trip through one region, and study that region before you go. What are the major landforms (mountains, lakes, rivers) in this region? What are the main industries or crops in this area? Study each state included, and some of the National Parks in each. Choose which parks to visit on your road trip.
  2. Take virtual road trips with a separate passport booklet. Using a set of commemorative stamps, study the included parks one by one, where they are located, their history, their habitat, what the weather is like, the flora and fauna, etc. Go online and see if you can find virtual field trips, pictures, videos, maps and more. Print your own blank WonderMaps and label them with park boundaries, nearby cities, rivers, and mountains, etc. After studying a park, add the stamp to your virtual road trip passport book to mark it off. File everything you print or make into a binder or scrapbook.
  3. Using a passport book for reference, discover all the National Parks in your state, and spend a school year trying to visit as many as possible. If your state is low on National Parks and heavy on State Parks, you can add those, too.

Any of those three activities would bring some fun geography in for your kids. Obviously, this focuses more on the physical and map skills aspects of geography but you could also add in cultural and social studies as well. The scope and depth could vary depending on the ages of your children. Regardless, the National Parks Passport Program are a great way to learn more about our nation’s history and landscape.

Resources for these projects:

2015 Summer Road Trip

In honor of the tradition of the family summer road trip, North Star Geography  is on sale June 16-30, 2015 for 20% off (digital download and CD versions only).

June 16-30, 2015; 20% of North Star Geography download or CD

Get More Road Trip Goodness by Following Our Special Pinterest Board

Follow Bright Ideas Press’s board Road Trip Learning for Homeschool Families on Pinterest.

Do you have our latest 2015 catalog? Download a PDF copy now.
To get notice of sales and read encouraging articles, sign up for our newsletter.

This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please refer to the disclosure policy

Scrap(book) Your Family Road Trip!

Scrap(book) Your Family Road Trip!

You should just scrap your family road trip! No, I don’t mean cancel the trip; I mean create a scrapbook about it!

Scrapbooking is a fun way to get your students to really dig in to reviewing what they learned on a road trip or field trip. Scrabooking is very similar to notebooking. So let your scholars get behind the camera, grab some fun paper, stickers, and other embellishments, and go!

how to scrapbook a road trip

How to Scrapbook a Homeschool Worthy Memory Book

  • Decide beforehand if you will be scrapbooking the details as you go or waiting till you return.
  • Choose the album size. For scrapbook/notebooking fun, there are many different sized albums including the 12 inch by 2 inch size you see pictured here. For multiple students you can choose to use one album or let each child have their own. Or use standard three-ring binders if you already have those on hand.
  • To create a treasure for long term enjoyment, choose quality scrapbooks, use archival adhesives, and write with archival ink pens like Micron.
  • Invest in fun papers when the budget allows.
  • Watch photo printers like Walgreens for print coupons. Walgreens also has an app that allows you to directly upload photos from your phone, Facebook, and Instagram.
  • Set aside time for your children to be creative and unrushed when they are recording their memories. If you are recording a very long trip or one with many things the children want to record, you may want to break it up into a few different sessions of work.
  • Include maps, like WonderMaps, of historical and other noteworthy places.

Tips for Scrapbook/Notebooking with Elementary Students

  • For early elementary ages, you may need to take notes of the things they find appealing to later include in your memory album.
  • Stickers and fun embellishments can be collected at many places. Give them the topic of your road trip — space exploration for example — and let them scour the dollar bins and craft store aisles in the weeks and days before your trip. This adds interest to the project and also sets a sense of anticipation for the trip.
  • Use double sided scrapbook tape or glue dots. Stay away from the archival liquid glue if you’re dealing with younger elementary students.
  • Don’t forget to get a few pictures of them during the trip and at special destinations since they are probably not as adept at selflies as your tween and teen students.
  • Use sticky labels for small notes your children want to include. Facts, observances, and memories of your trip can all be narrated to you by the youngest students.
  • Let your children take pictures of their own. They may be blurry, but it’s a great learning experience and will be a sweet look back years down the road.

elementary scrapbooking notebooking

Tips for Scrapbook/Notebooking with Older Students

  • For older students, recording trips and information in a scrapbook is more like building a memory portfolio. Having them include longer and more in-depth facts, maps, and observances alongside their photos and short blurbs is a great way to prepare them for presentations in college and beyond.
  • If your older child loves technology, you can opt for digital scrapbooking and print out completed pages on photo paper.
  • Allow your child to pick a few destinations to include in their memory album.
  • Coordinate your road trips with the history you are studying.

embellishments make scrapbook note booking fun

However your students decide to put their records together, rest assured they will be very proud of the results and will want to look over their scrapbook pages again and again. So will you!

Memories are recorded for posterity

2015 Summer Road Trip

In honor of the tradition of the family summer road trip, North Star Geography  is on sale June 16-30, 2015 for 20% off (digital download and CD versions only of the single family license).

June 16-30, 2015; 20% of North Star Geography download or CD

Get More Road Trip Goodness by Following Our Special Pinterest Board

Follow Bright Ideas Press’s board Road Trip Learning for Homeschool Families on Pinterest.

Do you have our latest 2015 catalog? Download a PDF copy now.
To get notice of sales and read encouraging articles, sign up for our newsletter.

This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please refer to the disclosure policy

Best Smartphone Apps for Family Road Trips

Best Smartphone Apps for Family Road Trips

If you’re taking a road trip or planning a family vacation this summer, here are some awesome apps for you to scope out! You’ll find great options for both Android and iOS, as well as a few that are available for Windows based phones and Blackberry phones.

It’s so neat that we live in a time that road trips and family vacations can become nearly stress-free! With these apps you’ll be able to focus more on enjoying your trip than on all those tiny little details!

Hotel Tonight

I remember one of our road trips took longer than expected. If we would have had this app, it would have been much easier locating a nearby hotel for us to stay in. With Hotel Tonight, you can find last minute deals and you can book right from the app!

Compatible devices: AnroidIOS, and Windows

Honk

Honk is sort of like AAA. You can access towing services, tire change services, jump start services, and more.

Compatible devices: Android and IOS

Glympse

Glympse is a neat way for family or friends to keep tabs on each others locations. The view is only shared with those in your loop, so no worries on sharing that info with anyone and everyone! This app is great for those traveling in different cars, if you need to split up during a trip, or even to help you keep in sync just in case someone makes a wrong turn!

Compatible devices: AndroidIOS, and Windows

HealthyOut

Who says road trips have to equal eating unhealthy? With this app you’ll be able to find local restaruants that match your eating preferences! You can input your dietary desires (such as low carb or gluten free) too!

Compatible devices: Android and IOS

GasBuddy

This is a GREAT app to have while taking a road trip! Gas can vary from station to station and much like you would do locally to your home, with this app you can find the best price in the area. If you’re taking a long road trip and have to gas up often, this app will help you save a few bucks.

Compatible devices: AndroidIOSWindows, and Blackberry:

First Aid by American Red Cross

This is a pretty neat app that is not just useful for road trips but also just a great app to have! It’s created by the Red Cross and gives you instant access to information you may need to handle some of the most common first aid emergencies.

Compatible devices: Android and IOS

Sit or Squat

I had to giggle at this one. I’ve been on long road trips before with my kids, and one of the most asked questions is “Can we stop to go to the potty?!” With this app, you’ll be able to locate restrooms near you or where you’re planning to go.

Compatible devices: Anroid and IOS

Spotcycle

This is super neat to use when visiting places like Washington DC. You will be able to locate local bike stations around you easily!

Compatible devices: DAndroid and IOS

Roadside America

With this app you’ll find all those fun and neat stops along your road trip!

Compatible devices: IOS

Roadside Presidents (same creators as Roadside America)

Roadside Presidents is super neat for families who are wanting to find historical landmarks along their road trip. You’ll find birthplaces, statues, museums, and more. Super fun if your kids have just gone through American History or are about to learn about it in the upcoming school year!

Compatible devices: IOS:

Waze

With Waze you’ll be able to tap into real-time traffic and road info which will help save you time and money.

Compatible devices: DAndroid , IOS, and Windows:

BONUS:

These two bonus apps are for those traveling by plane. Both offer some really neat features to help make the trip go smooth and help you have lots of great tools at the tip of your fingers!

TripIt

This app creates a full itinerary of your whole trip! You email your airline details, car rental pickup info/time, hotel info and check in time, and any activities you have scheduled. It will place all the items in chronological order helping you stay on top of it all without missing a beat. You can sync it with your Google Calendar and even share some of the info via email (great for keeping family up to date with your plans)

Compatible devices: Android  and IOS

Gate Guru

With this app you can see your Tripit and Kayak itineraries, airport security wait times, a list of the various airport food shops, stores, and services!

Compatible devices: Android ,  IOS , and Windows

2015 Summer Road Trip

To help you enjoy your summer road trips whether they are cross country or just to the local zoo, WonderMaps is on sale June 1 – 15, 2015 for 25% off. The regular download price is $49.95; for two weeks only, WonderMaps software is just $37.46.

Note, this sale is for the single family use of the digital download only.

June 1-15, 2015; 25% off Wondermaps

Get More Road Trip Goodness by Following Our Special Pinterest Board

Follow Bright Ideas Press’s board Road Trip Learning for Homeschool Families on Pinterest.

Do you have our latest 2015 catalog? Download a PDF copy now.
To get notice of sales and read encouraging articles, sign up for our newsletter.

This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please refer to the disclosure policy

Tips for Using WonderMaps on a Road Trip

Tips for Using WonderMaps on a Road Trip

If you are gearing up to take a road trip this summer, chances are you’ll be looking to keep the kids occupied along the way and it’s always fun to tie in some geography on the journey. WonderMaps is a great way to incorporate some mapping for your summer adventures.

Why Choose WonderMaps for Road Trips

WonderMaps is a map software program which allows you to customize the maps you want. How is this useful to a traveler?

  • Choose from a variety of maps including world and ancient maps.
  • Customize the maps by adding the features you want before printing.
  • Always have an up to date map without having to repurchase anything.
  • Print them in color or black and white with or without features.
  • The maps support lots of creative ideas.

Road Trip Mapping Ideas Using WonderMaps

Are you still unconvinced mapping software and maps would make a great vacation? Here are a few ideas on how I might use WonderMaps while on an adventure with my family:

  • Prepare maps of your driving route so you can map your way as you go.
  • Print a physical map and you can mark your journey with symbols.
  • Make a landmark map.
  • Make a map which highlights the wildflowers you find on your adventure.
  • Use a United States map and shade in the states represented once you have scene the license plate to that state on your drive.
  • Map the places you visit on the map.
  • Print color and/or black and white maps to use for your travel journal.
  • Create a nature study map to share the critters and plants you observe.
  • Mark special species you’ve found on the trip with a nature map
  • Denote the national parks where you travel and any special feature they have. (Have you seen Geography Quest: National Park Edition?)

Remember you are not working on an exquisite piece of art with these maps. You don’t have to follow all the mapping rules if you are using them in journals are art projects. Have a good time with it!

2015 Summer Road Trip

To help you enjoy your summer road trips whether they are cross country or just to the local zoo, WonderMaps is on sale June 1 – 15, 2015 for 25% off. The regular download price is $49.95; for two weeks only, WonderMaps software is just $37.46.

Note, this sale is for the single family use of the digital download only.

June 1-15, 2015; 25% off Wondermaps

Get More Road Trip Goodness by Following Our Special Pinterest Board

Follow Bright Ideas Press’s board Road Trip Learning for Homeschool Families on Pinterest.

Do you have our latest 2015 catalog? Download a PDF copy now.
To get notice of sales and read encouraging articles, sign up for our newsletter.

This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please refer to the disclosure policy

Geography Fun From the Backseat

 Geography Fun from the Backseat

Road trips with the whole family can drag on, and children who are confined to the car for hours begin to get restless. When we go on trips, there’s always the challenge of thinking up fun things to do to keep kids occupied. In some cars, you could just pop in a video. But, instead, how about some geography fun and learning as you travel? Here are some fun ways to work in some a few homeschool geography lessons from the backseat.

Geography Games

At the beginning of your trip, print some blank maps of the areas you will travel through. If you have the WonderMaps program, you can customize the maps you want with the features you want to show. Then print as many copies as you’d like for each child (and yourself) to play these fun games:

1. License Plate Search

We really enjoy this one, especially when we’re driving through multiple states. Have kids use a USA map to mark the states that they spot license plates from. Although we only drove through three states on a recent trip to Florida, we were able to find license plates from almost every state!

You can set some rules such as where you can look for plates — only on the interstate, in parking lots, etc. — to make things more interesting if you’re traveling farther. See who can gather the most states in a competition or play as a family to reach a set goal.

2. ABC Places

This game involves looking for letters on signs or on other vehicles as you travel. Players must find the letters in alphabetical order, and as they find a letter, they must also find a state, country, river, or city that begins with that same letter before they can go on to the next letter. Make sure you have road maps, atlases, or your custom WonderMaps. To involve little ones, pair a younger child with an older one. The younger child finds the letter, and the older child hunts for a place name.

3. City Names Scavenger Hunt

Provide kids with WonderMaps you have prepared beforehand with cities on or near your route. Kids are to look for something with the name of the city — an interstate sign, an historical marker sign, a road sign etc. When they find the city name, have them circle it on the map. The first one with all of the city names marked wins.

Geography Journaling

Kids can also have geography fun by recording places visited on a map. Give each child a map of the area where you’ll be traveling. As you drive through areas, have them mark those places on the map. I like to give the kids notebooks on long trips as well. The map and notebook can be used together as a travel journal of sorts.

Geography Reading

Before your road trip, choose books about the area or region to which you are traveling. Some well-known travel spots have many trip guides available. If there isn’t a trip guide for a lesser known place, check for a city/town/destination website. Many times websites will link to books about the area. I’ve found that the kids can often enjoy the trip more if they have some knowledge of the place before we get there. As we travel, they can look for some of the places we’ve read about.

I also like to collect books from the places we visit. Historical cities such as Charleston, South Carolina or Williamsburg, Virginia often have children’s books with information about the history of the city. When we bring these home, we can read and reread them to remember our trip.

If reading makes your children carsick, you can read aloud to them or you can use audio books as a substitute.

2015 Summer Road Trip

To help you enjoy your summer road trips whether they are cross country or just to the local zoo, WonderMaps is on sale June 1 – 15, 2015 for 25% off. The regular download price is $49.95; for two weeks only, WonderMaps software is just $37.46.

Note, this sale is for the single family use of the digital download only.

June 1-15, 2015; 25% off Wondermaps

Get More Road Trip Goodness by Following Our Special Pinterest Board

Follow Bright Ideas Press’s board Road Trip Learning for Homeschool Families on Pinterest.

Do you have our latest 2015 catalog? Download a PDF copy now.
To get notice of sales and read encouraging articles, sign up for our newsletter.

This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please refer to the disclosure policy