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by Terri Johnson, author of Homeschooling ABCs (www.homeschoolingabcs.com ) - dedicated to helping new homeschoolers gain the confidence and the necessary skills to successfully teach their children at home.
  

Must I Teach Geography?

I'd Rather Not...
  
What exactly is it about geography that makes it a subject that many home educators have become loathe to teach? Is it because we ourselves feel so inadequate in our own knowledge of the subject? Is it because we cannot find a curriculum that lays out a systematic and incremental course of study, and is fun to boot? Or is it because we have finally realized that the world is really not so small after all, as the song of the same name implied and the accessibility of the world by way of the Internet has led us to believe? Is it not true that the more you learn about a country or a region of the world, the more you realize the vast amount of terrain there is still yet to know?

Sadly, when it comes to geography, Americans just are not measuring up. In a National Geographic survey, it was found that 49% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 could not locate the state of New York on a United States map. 88% of these respondents could not find Afghanistan on a map of Asia. And, perhaps most shocking, is that 11% of these Americans could not locate their own country on a world map!

American students, in general, have a very limited understanding of world and even U.S. geography in comparison with their counterparts from around the world. European students, for example, have a much better handle not only of their own surrounding geography but of the entire world as well. It is the same with students from Asia and many other parts of the globe.

Perhaps you are thinking that I am only referring to public school students. But in reality, homeschooled students often suffer from this same lack of knowledge in geography as well. The two subjects most neglected in the homeschooling arena are writing and geography. I am not entirely certain why this is so, but I can speculate… Skill areas, such as math, grammar and spelling are easier to measure than the artful skill of writing and so it gets pushed aside. Similarly, history and science require such large portions of time that geography is often left in the cold.

The little-known truth about geography is that it is not a difficult subject to teach! The teacher does not have to master the topic before challenging his/her students to increase their knowledge and skill in this neglected area. There are many wonderful resources out there that will help you teach your students world geography and most of them are inexpensive or even free.

Are you ready dive in and discuss some fun and effortless ways to teach geography? Well, hold on for just a moment more… first let’s take a minute to discuss why learning geography is even a necessary component to one’s education. I mean, honestly, why would anyone need to know where Timbuktu is located? (By the way, in case you do not know, it is a city situated smack dab in the center of Mali, a country in western Africa, just south of the Sahara Desert.)

First, we need a working definition of geography. According to Noah Webster, geography is the study of the earth, or the terrestrial globe, particularly of the divisions of its surface, whether natural or artificial, and of the position of countries, kingdoms, states and cities. In essence, geography is the spatial aspect of earth study and is integrally related to its sister subjects of history, ecology and the economy.

Consider this perspective… All wars that have been fought throughout history have been over geography, which, of course, ultimately boils down to greed. The source of tension between lords and tenants, neighboring kingdoms, settlers and natives comes down to this one particular thing - who owns the land currently and who has enough power to take it and keep it!

Physically speaking, the landscape of our earth has changed little over the course of time (with the exception of the Great Flood and its aftermath), but the historical events that have transpired over even just a portion of this ground has had and continues to have tremendous impact on that locale as well as the world as a whole.

We must take an interest in and even study geography because it is an aspect of studying mankind and his development and movement over the face of the globe. We should not only concern ourselves over the name or even the course of a given river, but we would do even better to make an attempt at understanding the societies that have grown up and then departed from that river, the trade that was conducted up and down that river, the connections that that river makes to other waterways and its overall significance to the local and worldwide economy. Many people do not realize that geography is more than just naming countries, cities and landforms. It is the study of the land as it relates to people, their history and their resources.

If we truly want to understand another culture, to reach out in missions, to bring aid to hurting people and share the love of Christ beyond our local borders, we must study geography. Cultures are defined by traditions, shared values, available resources and geographical limitations and whereabouts. If we truly want to believe once again that this is a small world after all, we must take an active interest in our world’s geography and the people groups who are scattered around the globe.

Stock up on games!

So let’s get started. How can we study geography with our students in such a way that it does not become dry and boring? Meaningless repetition and memorization can lead to drudgery for anyone. What's more, how can we teach it without being knowledgeable ourselves? Well, there is a reason why geography bees (and spelling bees for that matter) have cropped up all around this country and even around the world. Why not take a subject that has the tendency to become tedious and make it a game! Geography is the ideal subject for game playing and competition. (You may prefer to downplay competition in your school or home, but there are many games that do not require competition.)

Here are some great games that you might consider playing with your children:

Map puzzles (traditional and computerized)

Geography hangman (traditional or online)

Borderline card games (out of print)

MapTangle (like Twister®)

HopOff (like hopscotch)

Carmen Sandiego computer games

Online computer games

It certainly does not hurt to stock up on some physical games to put on your shelf to pull down when the kids get bored, but there are also many free and interesting geography games available on the Internet. For a compilation of fun and challenging online games, download our brand new ebook entitled Globalmania: Master World Geography in Just 7 Months - www.kqpublishing.org/Globalmania.html - and it is free of charge. Included within the ebook are several labeled and unlabeled maps of the continents and globe to aid your students’ learning.

Integrate it seamlessly!

Geography is a natural extension of history, literature and science. It just makes sense to learn it along with these other subjects. Yes, teaching geography can be painless and your children may even develop an “obsession” with finding locations on the map! Here are some ways to incorporate geography into your daily studies.

Fasten a large world map to the wall - the bigger the better. This map can be either labeled or unlabeled. If you choose an unlabeled map, have a globe on hand for looking up locations. On this wall map, have your students mark locations when they run across them in their studies, whether it be the name of a country they just read about in their literature reading, the name of a city where an inventor was born, or the location of a famous battle. Marking locations on a map can be done a few different ways. Straight pins can be outfitted with a labeled “flag” which identifies the place. Simply fold a rectangular piece of paper around the pin, glue it to itself and label the specific place name with a fine point marker on the “flag”. These place-marker pins can be stuck into a map that has been adhered to a foam backing (spray adhesive works best for adhering paper maps to foam board). Or, if the map is not laminated, and if this activity meets with your approval, the children can mark the location with a dot using a marker and then write the place name directly on the map itself. This usually works better with a blank unlabeled wall map.

Another activity that incorporates geography into their other studies is for your children to label and color notebook sized maps which correspond with the topics they are studying in history or learning about in their assigned reading. Again, this activity is best used in conjunction with a globe so they can see where the area is located in relation to the rest of the world and to gain the distance perspective that only a globe can give because it is not distorted as a flat map is.

Keep it colorful and appealing!

Geography should be fascinating. Maybe it is not to you, but spend a little time with someone who loves geography and history and that enthusiasm will begin to rub off. The materials that we keep around our home should be eye-catching if we want our children to take notice of them and flip through them. Place some big, bright children’s atlases on the coffee table. Fill your bookshelves with books that are interesting and colorful and are asking to be noticed.

At Knowledge Quest, Inc., we are publishing a brand new book that teaches your children U.S. geography. It is called the Star-Spangled State Book and it is loaded with colorful pictures, interesting facts and challenging quizzes that will draw your children into its pages and keep them there. You can download a free sample from the book here. These are the kind of books that you want around your home. Your children will be in danger of learning their geography without having to be prodded by you. Keep your eyes open for these types of resources when shopping with your favorite educational suppliers and browsing your local library.

It is not so much difficult as it is just a new mindset to keep, that geography really isn’t so scary or hard, but can be learned through many fun and enjoyable avenues. Give your children delightful resources and a challenge they cannot resist and watch them take off!

Enjoy those learning moments!

Terri Johnson

Terri Johnson, along with her husband Todd, has been teaching their children at home for 11 years.  They also run a publishing company - Knowledge Quest, Inc. - producing history and geography materials for the homeschool marketplace.  This past year, they have started two online classes - Homeschooling ABCs (www.homeschoolingabcs.com) - dedicated to helping new homeschoolers gain the confidence and the necessary skills to successfully teach their children at home; and Upper Level Homeschool (www.upperlevelhomeschool.com) - encouraging and equipping homeschooling parents to stay the course even when their teen enter high school and to finish the race strong.

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