Sunday, March 21, 2010


As part of our stellar history course, Scott Powell includes a geography program.  His idea, which is hard to argue with, is that we need to have a strong grasp of geography to properly understand history.

I love Scott's geography approach.  He doles out small sections of the world in printable worksheets which the kids are to color and label, repeating until they have mastered the material in a Suzuki-like method. I love the whole thing.

Theo, who has pencil-phobia, fears it.

So despite the wonderful program literally at my fingertips, I have spent the past 6 months exploring other ways to learn geography.  And it turns out people LOVE to teach and learn about geography, so there are many, many options. Here's what I've learned so far.

Online puzzles and games
To start off with, we needed something that would overcome the resistance to geography due to its initial association with pencils.  My strong limits of screen time mean that my kids will do almost *anything* if they can do it on the computer.  After surfing through plenty of websites I came up with two for the kids to try.
- Owl and Mouse offers free on-line map puzzles that my kids enjoy. The puzzles include the standard continents and all the countries there-in but also fun bonuses like world features and monuments. The site is simple and easy to use.  My one reservation in letting the kids use Owl and Mouse is that there is no sound.  Rosie, as a beginning reader, needs sound to learn the names on the puzzle independently.  Equally as important, all of us benefit from the proper pronunciation of new-to-us words.
- Sheppard Software fills pages and pages of the web with educational games. The geography on-line section organizes mostly by continent and within each of those sections are separate games for countries, capitals and landscape.  These are further broken down into levels, starting with learning tutorials progressing all the way to very complex expert level puzzles. My children's knowledge sky rocketed when we discovered Sheppard's site, however the complexity of the choices sometimes overwhelms them and they will gravitate back to the more simply appealing Owl and Mouse.  Sitting next to them or playing "against" them seems to hold their attention on this site.

Physical Map Puzzles
Once their knowledge and confidence about their geographical knowledge grew, I introduced Montessori puzzle maps.  Initially my kids and I were thrilled, but over time we've grown frustrated with the maps.  The wooden Montessori maps are unlabeled, with a full size paper "control map" that one buys to go along with it.  While our control was marketed to go with our map, it turns out the puzzle pieces don't correspond to the lines on the map.  Which means we can't do the puzzle properly on the control. And again, I end up with a 6 year old who knows how all the pieces fit together but can't name any of them - since my geography skills are weak I can't tell her at a glance what they are. Additionally, one of the main methods for using the maps is to trace each of the map pieces and label them (or even cut them out and glue together your own map).  Rosie loves the tracing and labeling, but predictably (in retrospect) Theo balked heavily at the suggested use of a writing utensil.

This weekend we discovered some fantastic cardboard puzzle maps.  They're called GeoPuzzles and made by the people at the GeoToyStore (see, I told you people were into geography). Most of the pieces are the shape of the country and each country, capital and major water body is clearly labeled. My kids eagerly opened the boxes and worked on two of the puzzles very successfully.  Of course, the pieces don't read themselves aloud to Rosie, so I've been controlling the distribution of pieces then saying the names of the pieces as I hand them to her. With 6 different puzzle maps available, I think these are going to be a big hit in our family over the next few years.

For learning the names of all the states, my kids enjoy a picture book called The Scrambled States of America.  I'm not sure what knowledge they actually gleaned from the book, but they find it entertaining and demand unsuspecting adults to read it over and over to them. I do think there is something to be said for the exposure that comes from hearing the names of the states repeated over and over again, though I prefer my kids learn in a more contextually appropriate manner. For that reason I hesitate to recommend the book, yet I've not found anything better.

On a less sexy vein, I bought the Rand MaNally children's atlas way back in September.  Theo and Rosie love to pour over it, studying each page with its various features.  I find it a little odd, but if they're happy I'm not going to interfere.

Other goodies
At the game store where we discovered the GeoPuzzles, I learned that there are many geography games in the world.  We'll likely go back once the map puzzles are mastered and pick up a game or two, though it seemed to me that most of them were aimed at the 8+ age group.

On the wall near our dining room table, I've taped up a National Geography world map.  We all look at it a lot and reference often during homeschool and mealtime conversations.  It's right at kid level and I often find little visitors looking it over and running their little fingers along the different lines of the continents and countries.

In a great thrill months ago I bought a Peter's Map.  It is beautiful and interesting and exciting and SO big we don't have a wall big enough to mount it on.  Still working that problem out, though both kids will independently remind me we should hang it every few weeks. Someday....

How about you?  What geography works for you? Any geography books that you and your kids love?  What about those talking globes - is the gain in knowledge worth having another plastic, electronic thing making noise in the house? What's your favorite geography game?

1 comment:

FreedomWorks said...

Nice article and excellent links.

You might want to consider having your links pop-up in a new browser window, if you know how to make that happen. Otherwise, folks may not come back to your site, after they get engrossed in the links you sent them to.