Geography: You’d Be Lost Without It!
By Maggie S. Hogan
Good morning, class! Please take out your pen and paper; today we are having a pop quiz! That’s right—a short test to check on your knowledge of geography. Now, no looking at your neighbor’s paper (or Googling!). Ready? Go!
Geography Pop Quiz (answers below)
1. Name the seven continents in order from smallest to largest.
2. Define hemisphere.
3. What is the difference between the following terms, all of which are references to the same place?
• British Isles
• Great Britain
• United Kingdom
4. Which of the following is not especially related to geography?
5. What two things do the following entries have in common?
• New York Jets
• Baltimore Orioles
• Miami Hurricanes
• Colorado Rockies
6. Which answer (1, 2, or 3) belongs in each blank below?
• Lines of ___________ are vertical. 1. Cacao
• Lines of ________________ are horizontal. 2. Latitude
• Chocolate comes from the ________ plant. 3. Longitude
7. What do the following verses from the New Testament have in common?
• Acts 1:8
So, how did you do? Are you a geo-whiz or maybe a little rusty? Whatever the case, I’m here today to motivate you to start thinking geographically! Here are three very good reasons for helping your children to become geographically literate.
1. God wants us to spread the good news of the Gospel. In order to do so, we need to know something of the world and the people He has placed in it. Whether you are called to be a missionary or support a missionary or to pray for unsaved peoples, you will be much better equipped if you learn about these people and places.
2. We want our children to be good citizens—able to make informed decisions when it comes time to vote or to be involved in their community. Good citizens are knowledgeable about current events—both locally and abroad.
3. Geography is fascinating! A student versed in the myriad of geography topics will find himself well informed about any number of issues. Not only can many hobbies be derived from knowledge of geography, but many careers as well. From meteorologists to botanists to travel agents—geography is an unlimited field of study.
What Is Geography?
First, it would be helpful to understand what exactly is meant by “geography.” Here is a great definition from people who should know—the National Geographic Society:
Geography: A knowledge of place names, location of cultural and physical features, distribution and patterns of languages, religions, economic activities, population and political systems. Physical regions and physical phenomena, such as tectonic activity, landform, climate, bodies of water, soils and flora and fauna. The changes in places and areas through time, including how people have modified the environment. Cartographer’s tools, such as maps, instruments, graphs and statistics, are also a part of geography.
How Do I Teach Geography?
There are basically two methods for teaching geography throughout the course of your homeschooling. The first method is to incorporate it into your other subjects. The second is to teach a specific geography class. I used both methods to great advantage and would like to show you how you can as well.
The simplest method and the one I used twice over the course of my sons’ schooling was to teach a specific course on geography, which covered the basics. They learned about geographic terminology, locations of cultural and physical features, physical regions and physical phenomena, habitats, climate, religions, languages, and the use of cartographers’ tools, such as maps and graphs. I taught this course once during their upper elementary years, and they took the course at a more advanced level in high school.1
The second method is one I used in our daily life, both in and out of “school,” that is, to recognize geography as you come across it in academic subjects and life in general. As we read Hans Brinker, we learned about Holland; as we read missionary stories, we learned about unsaved people groups; as we read our life science textbooks, we learned about habitats; as we read our history books, we learned about the migration of people; as we discussed the news, we learned about current events; and as we hosted exchange students, we learned about religions and cultures.
By the time both boys left home, I was fairly confident that they were “geographically aware” and that they realized the world does not revolve around the United States. I even tried hard to teach them how not to get lost, but it turns out getting lost is a gene that I passed on to them—despite my best intentions! However, they both know how to read maps, use a GPS, and if all else fails—how to (gasp!) ask directions.
What Tools Do I Need?
It’s a short simple list, really. Here goes:
• A good attitude (yours!)
• An age-appropriate and current world atlas (Please do not expect your 10-year-old to use an adult-level atlas!)
• A U.S. atlas
• A Bible atlas
• World maps and U.S. wall maps (Your world map should have Africa centered, not the U.S. When the U.S. is centered, Asia is split into what appears to be two separate continents.)
• Outline maps for labeling places, events, routes, weather, etc. (Laminated products need wet-erase markers—not dry erase markers!)
• Curriculum helps for younger children, such as Hands-On Geography by Maggie Hogan or Galloping the Globe by Dari Mullins.
Time to Plan
What will you use this year? Will you take the “Geography Class” approach, or will you skillfully weave geography into your other lessons? Consider these options:
Everything happened somewhere! On a map, record titles of stories read—this makes for a visually interesting and memorable “book list.” Are the characters going someplace? Map their travels as well.
Use historical maps, as well as contemporary maps, to point out the “where” of your history studies. As you discuss cultures, politics, religion, etc., you are also studying geography.
When studying a branch of earth science, be sure to make use of maps, realizing that rocks, earthquakes, and volcanoes are also elements of physical geography. Life sciences include people, animals, plants, environments, and ecology.
Graphs, charts, and statistics are important components of geography. (There is really no escaping it!)
Where did Jesus walk? How did Paul relate to the culture around him? Where was Babylon, and why do we need to know?
Geography Jigsaw Maps
Homemade jigsaw maps are an easy way to master geography facts in bite-sized chunks. You could create a jigsaw map for any country or continent you want to learn about. Cut out large or small puzzle pieces, depending on the age and ability of the student.
• Trace a map.
• Color code by region/state/country.
• Cover with clear packing tape.
• Cut out.
• Store in small, resealable bags.
• Rock collecting
• Exploring ponds or woods for plants and critters
• Hurricane tracking
• Bird watching
Treasure hunts can introduce geographic concepts in a way that is both fun and effective. From the simple search (e.g., look under the table or behind the door) to the very advanced search (walk 7 paces N by NE), a treasure hunt can be intriguing for all ages. I taught a group of older children how to read a compass and then sent them out on a pre-planned hunt. They needed some help occasionally, but they did a great job—eventually finding the buried box of goodies we had hidden in the yard. (Bonus: They got the garden turned over for me without realizing it!)
Love books? Try this great geography activity! Imagine following a book on its journey around the world and tracking it on your wall map. BookCrossing.com has this stated goal: to “make the whole world a library.” Book lover that I am, I find this to be a brilliant idea. Imagine if thousands of homeschooling families shared their favorite works (especially those with Christian themes) with the secular world. The concept is simple: Take a book you love, register it at http://www.bookcrossing.com/, then “release” it for someone else to find and read. You’ll be notified by email each time someone records journal entries for that book. And if you make release notes on the book, others can go hunting for it.
This is a blast! Letterboxing is an appealing mix of treasure hunting, art, navigation, and exploring. Originating in England, it become popular in the U.S. after an article describing it appeared in Smithsonian Magazine (April 1998). The premise is simple: Take a small, waterproof container; inside it put a journal and a stamp that in some way represents the area; and then hide it in a place that is legally accessible to the public. Write clues about how to find it, and post these clues on http://www.letterboxing.org/.
Or go letterboxing yourself. The website has clues available for most U.S. states and a number of countries. Bring along a family journal, and stamp it as you locate each box. Before setting out on a trip, check to see if any letterboxes are hidden along your route, and then schedule time to hunt for them as you travel. This makes a great diversion for long car rides, and for many families, letterboxing has developed into a hobby everyone enjoys. (There is a high-tech version, called “Geo-caching,” which makes use of a GPS; to learn more about it, visit www.geocaching.com.)
So, class, we’ve covered loads of material today. Hopefully, you have new ideas for teaching geography now. Save this article, because you’ll need it for your next assignment: go forth and conquer new geographic frontiers in your homeschool this year! Be adventurous, be bold, and be willing to take time out of your busy homeschool to train up your students in the extremely important subject of geography. Ready? Set—Go!
Sidebar: Peanut Butter & Jelly Project
This is a quick and easy lunchtime project!
Goal: To eat your sandwich into the shape of the state you choose!
• Make each child a nice big peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
• Pull out a map of the United States.
• Let them each pick a state to “bite” into shape.
Maggie Hogan is an author, publisher, and nationally recognized speaker who is easily distracted by all things geography-, history-, and science-related. She lives in Dover, Delaware, with her husband Bob and two spoiled cats. She has transformed the barn on her property into an office that houses Bright Ideas Press, a homeschool company (www.BrightIdeasPress.com) dedicated to bringing the best practical, fun, and affordable materials to the homeschool market. When not reading, writing, or playing with her granddaughter, you can find her drooling over travel magazines.
Geography Pop Quiz Answers
1. Australia, Europe, Antarctica, South America, North America, Africa, Asia.
2. Half of the world, either divided into Northern and Southern using the Equator as the division or divided into Eastern and Western, whose boundaries are harder to define.
3. British Isles [A geographic reference, specifically referring to the United Kingdom, Ireland, and adjacent islands]
• England [Politically, it’s a division of the United Kingdom; geographically it’s the southern part of the island of Great Britain.]
• Great Britain [consists of England, Scotland, and Wales]
• Ireland [The island of Ireland is divided: the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.]
• United Kingdom [Great Britain plus Northern Ireland equals the United Kingdom (or UK).
5. 1) They are all names of professional sports teams (2) that employ terms related to geography: transportation, birds, weather, mountain range.
6. 3, 2, 1
7. They all tell us to go and make disciples of all nations.
1. What did I use? Well, I couldn’t find anything I really liked, so my friend Cindy Wiggers and I co-authored a book after writing this course for our own children. It’s titled The Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide, and I recommend it for use by students who are at a fourth-grade level and up.
Copyright 2010. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, Fall 2010. Used with permission. Visit them at Schoolhouse Store, where shipping is always free! (U.S. only)