I stink at geography. That’s not an exaggeration. I never laugh at those derisive news stories about children (or adults) who are unable to tell you the capital of Nebraska or figure out whether Slovakia is in Europe or Asia. For some reason, the geography I was taught in school simply never "took." Most likely because I never took a personal interest in the subject, but also because it was always taught with so little creativity. My geography education basically consisted of filling in blank map outlines and memorizing mnemonic devices that would help me remember that People Attack Irritating Stinging Ants (those are the five oceans, by the way: Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Southern, Arctic).
When I started homeschooling, I made a pact that my children would never, ever have to fill out a blank map outline or memorize a single acronym. I decided that the best way to teach geography was by mixing and matching all sorts of devices, activities, and resources that would introduce them to the world in a fun and engaging way. We started early on by using music. When my oldest was in first grade, I purchased Kathy Troxel’s Geography Songs , and we sang our way through every country of the world and all fifty states.
When that got old (and our voices got hoarse) we moved over to learning geography through literature. The Beautiful Feet Books company offers a wonderful "Geography through Literature " pack that includes maps, a teacher’s guide, and four lovely children’s books by Holling Clancy Holling. We spent an entire school year of their late elementary education reading the books together and marking the journeys of the characters on the provided maps.
As the boys edged toward their double digit years, electronics were their passion. If it didn’t beep, flash, or buzz, then it wasn’t worth it’s salt. So I didn’t try to beat ’em – – I joined ’em by purchasing the Oregon Scientific Smart Globe. This learning tool had a pen/wand that let you just touch a country or state on the globe and hear all kinds of interesting information about the climate, language, history, and culture of that particular spot. And as if that weren’t enough, you could attach the pen to your computer via the provided cable and download daily updated news stories. Then, when you touched the next country, you could hear up-to-the-minute reports of the major events happening in that country that day. Very, very cool!
But alas, even portable electronics gave way in teenagedom to the all-powerful internet. The Google universe now reigns supreme, and my young men are not above reminding me that if Google doesn’t know it, it probably didn’t exist. So again, I dare not fight a losing battle, and I’ve done my research to find the best geography tools and sites on the web. Thankfully, there are a host of them to choose from.
Because my younger son uses the Time4Learning online homeschool curriculum, he is already getting some wonderful daily multimedia lessons on world and national geography. But we also enjoy playing the geography matching games at LearningGamesforKids , and using Spelling City to practice those difficult state and country spellings. One of our other favorite online geography tools is the New York Times Learning Network. When reading the days chosen top story, students have the option to have all of the geographical places mentioned in the article highlighted. Clicking on any of these highlighted names takes the student to a page about that place including maps, flag, and pertinent facts.
Other favorite online geography sites include: GeoBeats (a place to see the world from the comfort of your living room), the Traveler IQ Challenge , Where’s George (fun game to see where your money has been and where it is going), and of course Google Earth with its endless overlays and possibilities.
Maybe all this focus on geography is a bit of overcompensation on my part, but my children have been immersed in the locations, people, and cultures of the world from every possible angle and with every available learning style. They may never remember that People Attack Irritating Stinging Ants, but they have sung, read, played and explored this planet with a curiosity and enjoyment that I wish I had experienced at their age. I guess you could say I have geography envy.