Friday, May 31, 2013

The Importance of Teaching Geography

The Importance of Teaching Geography 

"Arizona gets snow? Isn't it all desert and cactus?"
"California has earthquakes?"
"Doesn't everyone in California surf- or have a beach nearby?"
"Oklahoma gets tornadoes?"
"Texas isn't a different country?" 
"Does Africa have an army?"

I have actually heard these questions - actually posed by adults. It kills me when basic geography becomes a source of question. It is often taught last, if ever at all. The opposite of what it should be. Like Art, Music,  and the Humanities, Geography should be amongst the first subjects to be emphasized. However, it has become lost in the shuffle due to the core curriculum of testing, and numerous budgetary offenses within American public schools today. Embarrassing.

This is our earth, our home- our community. We cannot expect the future generations to care about global needs or situations, solve world problems like global warming- if they are raised never knowing what their planet actually is.

Taking an Unschooling approach to geography is easy when one considers the fact that a single lesson in geography can include mapping, topography, social studies, reading, history, economics, agriculture,  science (astronomy, geology, or weather and climate), classic literature, and math- (yes! actually a lot of math- if one is graphing, calculating altitude, populations, or longitudes and latitudes, and distances traveled). The possibilities are endless. The necessity is dire.

Our children will face issues that go far beyond their town,  or even their state. Future geopolitical issues that most likely will require a global thinking, and understanding that what affects one can affect us all.
The rise of our oceans, the fall of our ice caps, the depletion of clean water, the death of honey bees, the rise of antibiotic resistant viruses, the contamination of basic food crops... these are just a few examples.
To understand humanity, to understand that we are all living on this miraculous rock as it floats in space- miniscule to the frame work of our vast universe, to learn the global concept of the Overview Effect is more important to humanities survival than most realize.
If you have never watched the movie Overview- I urge you to, and I urge you to watch it with your children. Amazing, and perfect to give  perspective. It's free to watch. just under 20 minutes in length. Profound, amazing and well put together. Overview the

Geography, in this light, is easy to teach. 

Maps are cheap. A Globe is cheap. Curiosity is priceless. To spark curiosity about the world= an endless learning experience.

Globes- One of the best creative sources for all ages. For little ones sitting the globe on floor and spinning it wildly - stopping it with a pointed finger and learning to identify where you stopped. Games can be played with 'name that place!'  Repetition in the game builds memory. At first you should sit with them and give all the answers, having them look at it and repeat it back to you. Slowly- but surely they do not need your help, children jump at the chance to name a place and be right. The globe itself helps them to understand the simple fact we all live on this earth together. One planet- One place; many different parts.
With older children, rattle off a series or list of places and see how fast they can them. AS soon as one is found name another. then another- mix it up from rivers to countries to seas, etc.  Make them move that ball an look. Have fun with it- 10 right answers gets a reward.

Maps- Maps should be displayed, readily available to always be looked at . In my home, one is always up.
Lessons should start with continents and oceans; Regions, then countries. Understanding Equator, poles, and climate regions.  Learning geographical features of rivers, seas, peninsulas, islands, etc.
Games after these basics can be as simple as pin the tail on the donkey- only make it a tack and pin the place to discuss. If a student has learned the basics they should be able to tell a number of things about the pin immediately- for example: closed eyes, spun around and the pin falls into Mexico. Just by opening eyes, the child should be able to identify that it's on the North American Continent. That the country also falls to the south into Equatorial ranges thus having areas of rainforest.  That Mexico is bordered by an ocean and a gulf, etc., etc.
An older child might add it's capital, the fact it has 2 peninsulas - both the Yucatan and Baja. That it holds major regions of rain forest and of desert. That the main language spoken there is Spanish. Perhaps look up the topographical maps of the country and tell you the deserts, or mountains. Highlands, lowlands, rivers and major populated areas. You might have him trace and draw the map for himself. 
A junior high student might take the day to write a two page paper on the basic facts of the country;  and a high school student  should spend several days on the history of the country or the economic or political history of the country.

An absolutely fabulous and free resource it Google Earth. Stand alone program allows anyone to zoom out to a globe view or zoom into a city or town. Shows topography with real pictures. Shows rivers, roads,  deltas,  and landscape in real pictures. Brings reality and truth into play so the concepts of geography and planet are not remaining so abstract. Download Google Earth here

Simple Online sites are fabulous! Such as: Sheppard Software , Kids National Geographic
Have a multitude of games and learning programs for children that are completely safe and reinforce basics.

The possibilities are endless!!
Teaching Geography is a huge win win for both the student and the parent!

As an example:
Geography in the car
I lived and raised my two boys for the first 10  years of their schooling in a major tourist area - (specifically, the Grand Canyon.) We played a game from our car ever so often, that was so simple it was very effective! I'd slowly drive through the parking lots and have the boys identify car's license plates from other states as we drove by. In their laps (about ages 6-9)  I had place-mats that were of the United States that I had found cheaply at Walmart. Each boy had a dry erase pen or a crayola washable marker, and when they found a new state they check marked the state it came from and called it out. I kept track with a notepad beside me- allowing me to correct their maps at home later. This also taught them many factors about the states- for example, many plates have the state bird, or fruit, or flag on them. We'd discuss if it was western state or eastern; a cold climate or hot, etc. etc.  Being inventive and thinking outside the box allowed us to have fun with the subject, and taught the boys so much more than a dry book. (Ahhh, I love Unschooling!)

As the boys grew, we never went on a trip without a map, and I never held the map. My navigators were in the back seat. Trips included many features, many roads, bridges, washes, rivers, cities, and many many questions. Also, allowing this promoted many stops, at places we would never have stopped to see- giant circular houses out in the middle of no where. Dinosaur statues, Flintstone's Bedrock Parks, Petrified Forests, Meteor Craters, and even the London Bridge- (now residing in Lake Havasu City). 

Don't allow yourself to be afraid to relinquish control of such things to the kids. The experiences can be fantastic memories and great grand adventures for the entire family. memories that last a lifetime.

Most importantly, have fun with it. Make it an adventure- not a dreaded boring subject.
Allow curiosity. Peak interest. Question everything. Curiosity is priceless. To spark curiosity about the world= an endless learning experience.

Invaluable tools: 


Overview the

Google Earth

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