Tuesday, July 24, 2012
To answer the first question, well... First I have to admit that we didn't consciously do a darned thing to expose our kids to geography. What we did, as always, was have fun as a family. But in retrospect, I can see that we did a lot. We traveled. We talked. We pulled out maps, nautical charts, globes, atlases, and Google Maps often and with bright interest and a need to discover something in particular. Geography is not some esoteric subject in our house but an extremely valuable tool. Plus, it's just interesting. Topography is interesting. Distances between places we'd love to visit are interesting. The impact of geography on world events, current and historical, is interesting.
Another thing we did was to become part of the unschooling community. We have friends and online acquaintances all across the U.S. and Canada, plus several other countries. The unschooling community has personalized the entire world for my kids. Destinations are not foreign and distant but possible. This means we don't hear a mention of a destination in England and think "oh, yeah, that place where the Queen lives." We think, "What part of England? I wonder how far it is from Schuyler's house. Maybe someday we can go stay with Schuyler and go there! Yeah, wouldn't that be cool?"
And there's the Internet. Cool stuff like the map above abounds. Maps come up automatically with many Internet searches. You can see graphical representations of voter patterns, Native American tribe locations, current weather conditions (with useful tools like hurricane trackers), and the paths followed by favorite fictional characters. Maps are everywhere.
Books! Every time my kids read a book they add to their knowledge of geography. When we travel, we visit places that we previously visited in books. Some books have maps as the frontispiece. Some maps are fictional, which inspires kids to draw fictional maps of their own. This gives them a gut-level understanding of scale and the challenges faced by map makers to show topography, distance, and relative size.
And music! Do you know the song "Battle of New Orleans"? We went to that battlefield! When my kids sing the line about "til we seed their faces well," they know where the Americans were waiting. They know the Mississippi River was a stone's throw away. They know how far the field is from New Orleans, and how far New Orleans is from our home near Seattle.
Planning for travel has been huge. Road trips. Unschooling conferences. Not Back to School Camp. Visiting friends in other states. Sailing in the Gulf of Mexico. Looking at maps and deciding where to *actually* go is FUN. (You can have this same experience with a city map, by the way.)
Kids learn geography when geography has context and meaning. And to answer the second question, the learning is fun for those very same reasons. It's fun because it's attached to fun things, and it's memorable because it becomes an integral part of the kids' personal memories.