Posts Tagged ‘geography’

Cool Websites for Geography

Dear Reader,

Last year I was trying to merge geography and current events. That worked okay for a while but I had a hard time getting the prep work done that I needed too. This year we are taking a slightly more laid back approach. I am simply using interesting maps. We look at one or more at a time, once a week (ideally), and discuss it. (My younger two also still do map drills; I have dropped this for my high schoolers.)

Here are some of the sites we have found with maps that teach about the world:

16 Maps that will change your understanding of the world forever

Mother Tongues

32 Maps that will teach you something new about the world

40 Maps that will help you make sense of the world

40 More Maps that Explain the World

And lastly, GeoCurrents — This website is a bit different from the others; you might have to dig around a little more but it has some interesting maps and a lot of resources. Consider, for instance, this map on milk and meat consumption in India. They are not currently adding new material.




Geography Study Idea

Dear Reader,

My 14-year-old did this on her own so I can’t really take any credit, but I thought it would be a wonderful idea for geography study.


What she did is draw our state (Massachusetts). She did this by hand just looking at a picture. Though we have never done this in school, this part is actually just what Charlotte Mason would do — have kids learn to draw maps freehand. Then she looked up facts about the state and added things in zentangle fashion. If you look around, you should be able to see in this our state flower and state bird, a sport invented in MA, the state flag and more. You can also then use this page as a coloring page. If you’d like to color her image or print it out for inspiration, I just ask that you do to her blog,, to do so. Look for the “free adult coloring pages” link.


How We are Studying Current Events and Geography

Dear Reader,

We are attempting to study geography and current events together this year. The plan I have devised is based upon the book Why Greenland Is An Island, Australia Is Not-And Japan Is Up for Grabs: A Simple Primer For Becoming A Geographical Know-It-All by Joyce Davis. I really love the idea behind this book though I am struggling to implement its ideas practically. My simple summary of the book would be that it provides steps for looking at news stories and using an atlas or other geographical tools to gather more information thereby allowing one to gain a deeper understanding of world events. I went through for myself and wrote down the basic steps. They are:

  • Identify the geographical issue
  • Study maps
  • Compare with more detailed maps
  • Look at large area maps
  • Combine geography and other facts
  • Picture the scene you have been studying

While I love this idea, I am wishing that the book had more examples, more detailed examples, and more contemporary examples of how all this plays out. The first example given is of the break up of the Soviet Union. Davis gives a brief blow by blow account of the events, sends us to look at more detailed maps, and then gives her own conclusions. But I am left wondering how exactly the geography played into it all. She supplies in her conclusions information we could not have gathered on our own from simply studying maps which makes it all a bug useless in terms of teaching how this process it to be carried out. We did to start off out studies begin with her Soviet Union example, however. It was somewhat useful. I did not feel like we achieved any ground breaking insights, but we could see, for example, how the mountain range on Russia’s southern border separates it from the countries below. We also talked about why Finland, alone of all the nations surrounding Russia, was never absorbed.  I don’t know if our conclusions are historically accurate, but they made sense to me. And, because every good post needs a picture, my older daughter doodled this cute image of the Baltic states while we talked:


For our second endeavor, I picked a news story that seemed liked it would be relatively easy to understand and have a natural connection with geography: the plight of refugees in Slovenia.** These refugees have come from the Middle East and are hoping to get to Germany and have been pushed off into Slovenia by neighboring Hungary. We read the story, looked at our atlas, and then talked about where the refugees came from, what their easiest means of travel would be (sea travel across the Mediterranean), why they would choose the Slovenia area, and the like. I think it was a somewhat fruitful conversation. I would like to gain the ability to delve deeper and deeper into such stories and to get more out of our studies but it felt like not a bad beginning. My goal is to do such studies once or twice a month. I will try to post here about how they are going.


**Side note (well, footnote, really, I suppose): My source for this news blurb and a magazine I really love is The Week. If you are not familiar with it, is is a news summary magazine. Issued weekly, it purports to be “all you need to know about everything that matters.” If you are like me and can’t always keep up with everything in detail, it is a great way to make sure you are not completely out of the loop, current events-wise. Plus I think it will prvide great fodder for these sorts of studies.

Teaching Geography: Why and How

Dear Reader,

For the upcoming Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival I am reading the section of Charlotte’s sixth book which deals with geography. My own initial thought when  became a homeschooler and heard others talking about geography was that it seemed like a very old-fashioned subject. I think I also had very dry conceptions of what geography should be, imagining memorizing countries in Africa with little or no context.

Charlotte begins this section by indicating that even in her own day geography was seeming to go by the wayside:

“The teaching of Geography suffers especially from the utilitarian spirit. The whole tendency of modern Geography, as taught in our schools, is to strip the unfortunate planet which has been assigned to us as our abode and environment of every trace of mystery and beauty. There is no longer anything to admire or to
wonder at in this sweet world of ours.” (p. 224)

As I am beginning to study geography in a CM way, I am seeing that what Charlotte describes is exactly what has  happened. We have lost all sense of beauty in the world. We no longer study science or geography for the sake of learning about what God has made. After we first lose this conception, we then begin to strip geography down until it becomes what I had always imagined — a dry subject focused mainly on memorization.

But Charlotte tells us that while children should learn where things are on their maps, they must also begin to picture themselves in these places. Geography rightly done should be very engaging. So much of a CM education is about forming relations with things through our reading. In geography we can get to know places and peoples which we may never get the chance to actually visit. Charlotte calls her approach to geography panoramic and describes it thus:

“The second which might be called the panoramic method unrolls the landscape of the world, region by region, before the eyes of the scholar with in every region its own conditions of climate, its productions, its people, their industries and their history. This way of teaching the most delightful of all subjects has the effect of giving to a map of a country or region the brilliancy of colour and the wealth of detail which a panorama might afford, together with a sense of proportion and a knowledge of general principles. I believe that pictures are not of very great use in this study. We all know that the pictures which abide with us are those which the imagination constructs from written descriptions.” (p. 228)

I feel like I am only beginning to get a good feel for geography but I have found some really enjoyable resources I would like to share:

For map drills we use free online games from Sheppard Software. With a little introduction, my kids have all been able to do this on their own. They all do it once  a week for about 5 minutes so this does not add a big burden to our day. For many areas of the world, we had gone over the countries ahead of time, coming up with mnemonics to help us remember the order they come in. For instance, for central America we say “big gorillas eat hotdogs, not cold pizza” (for Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama). We did not, however, do this for Africa and they still all seem to have learned the countries on their own by playing the games.

While we are always looking for more, there are a number of geography books we have enjoyed. One of the first was V.M. Hillyer’s Child’s Geography. I like a lot of Hillyer’s books. They are older and so sometimes things have changed (or changed and changed again; how many Germanys are there?). But I find such things just give me the chance to talk about world events and how things change. He also uses outdated languages referring to people groups which I either edit as I go or else use again as a chance to discuss how things have changed.

Last year we finished a book I had found at a used book store called In the Land of the Lion. It is probably hard to come by but it was again an older work, this one focused entirely on Africa and particularly on its animals. Animals can be a great way to get into geography because kids are interested in them and they also naturally lead one to consider climate and landscape. We followed this up with a book on Australian animals called Spotty the Bower Bird.

This year we are beginning a large volume by Richard Halliburton called the Book of Marvels. It begins in the US and continues through the world discussing both man-made and natural features. For example, thus far we have read about the bridges in San Francisco, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. The chapters are short and  a great length for reading aloud together. There are lots of pictures though they are in black and white. I am having the children place each spot on a map of the US as we go so they get a sense of where things are. It is again an older book, as all the good ones seem to be, so I do wonder if some of the things its says along the lines of “this is the biggest bridge” are still true.

How about you, what geography sources have you found and loved?


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