Giving Our Children the World: Education Through Geography

As a child, I would sit in a chair and look at my grandfather’s world globe for what seemed like hours at a time. Feeling the bumps of mountains. Reading the names of each country. Plotting a course across the ocean.

What is it like to live there? How does it feel to swim in those waters? Would the sky look the same if I lay on my back and looked up from another continent? How long would it take to get from here to there?

As soon as I had children of my own, I knew that I wanted to impart to them this same curiosity about the wide world around us. Architecture, food, folktales and stories, history, art, music, languages, and scenery–it is all fascinating to me.

I want my children to be world travelers, even when we don’t have the ability to go far from home.

There are many simple ways to incorporate geography into daily life and education.

1.  Give your children access to a globe, children’s atlas, or maps.

When a geographical location comes up in a book or a conversation, head to the globe and search for it or add a colored push-pin to the spot on a wall map.

Snuggle up on the couch and take turns pointing out countries you would like to visit.

Photo by Heidi Scovel

2.  Read books about far-away places.

We love the book Children Just Like Me by Barnabas and Anabel Kindersley for learning about the daily life of children in many countries. M. Sasek wrote a fabulous series of picture books about several cities and countries–such as Ireland, Israel, Hong Kong, and Venice.

Check your library for books sharing folk tales and fairy tales from other countries. Look for titles about the art or history of various regions.

Photo by Heidi Scovel

3.  Enjoy pictures of famous cities, landmarks, or scenery.

Purchase calendars featuring beautiful photography from around the world. At the end of the year, save the calendar and use the photos for projects or bulletin boards.

4.  Listen to new music.

Putamayo has recorded a wonderful series of international music. Acquaint yourselves with sounds from Denmark, Cuba, South Africa, or Germany.

5. Play geography games.

Do you have a family game night? Add Where in the World? or Ten Days in Europe to your game repertoire. Or put together a geography puzzle.

6.  Taste new foods.

Planning your dinner menu? Let your kids browse through a colorful children’s cookbook with international recipes. My boys are more receptive to new foods if they have a part in choosing or cooking a meal.

Grocery shopping? Head to the exotic produce section and grab one new fruit to sample.

Going to a restaurant for dinner? Change up your usual routine and seek out new flavors. Are Chinese, Mexican, and Italian already on your menu? Try Hungarian, French, or Mongolian.

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
~St. Augustine

Photo by Heidi Scovel


Do you and your children enjoy learning about other countries and cultures? What are some ways you have nurtured that curiosity within your homeschool or family life?

About Heidi

Heidi documents Living Lovely at her blog, Mt. Hope Chronicles. There she celebrates (in words and images) her journey as wife, homeschooling mother of three rambunctious boys, photographer, book collector, and lover of the little things.

Comments

  1. Gina says:

    This is really great. We do not currently have a globe but, it is on my list! We love to try ethnic foods at our house. My daughter who is slightly resisistent to new tastes, has been branching out; last night we had curry flavored naan and she loved it. My son on the other hand Loves new tastes, he really enjoys Indian and Thai but, not too much on the spicy side. We also enjoy different music as well. I’m going to the Library this morning with the kids and I plan on checking out some of the books you suggested. Thank You!! :)
    .-= Gina’s last blog: It’s Gone… =-.

  2. Paula says:

    We have a map on our dinner table with a clear tablecloth over it. It is a great conversation piece and learning tool. We also have an inflatable globe that is fun to play games with.

    • Heidi says:

      What a fun idea! We have laminated placemats with various themes, including a world map and a U.S. map, but I love the idea of having a large map to look at. We’ve had a couple inflatable globes over the years, but they don’t seem to last long around here…

      • Having a kids road atlas is great too. Highlight the roads you have taken, color in states you have been too etc, get creative. We are doing two road trips this year. We will teach the kids about the places we are going to before we get there and then learn more while there and actually seeing the place….great learning experience and a way to learn and explore. I like the Rand McNally Kid’s Atlas, in the back I also write some more details about the trip so the book turns into a keepsake too.

    • Kara says:

      Paula, I love this idea! Thanks for sharing :-)
      .-= Kara’s last blog: Head of the Class: Eco-Friendly Lunch Containers for a Smarter Planet =-.

    • Tanya says:

      What a great idea!! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Christy says:

    I love your ideas, thanks! You got me thinking in new directions.
    For my daughter’s kindergarten year, we chose to study Hawaii, Ireland and Italy. Hawaii we did in the fall, simply because we attended a fabulous local Hawaiian dance performance for children in the summer. My daughter loved it, so we ran with that. We had our extended family over for a luau at the end of the unit, where my daughter showcased everything she learned. From Jan to March we’re learning about Ireland, a large portion of my daughter’s heritage, and ending just in time for a big St Patrick’s celebration with family. We’ll end the schoolyear with Italy, another portion of her heritage. We’ve integrated geography, history, social studies, science, music & dance, cooking and art into each unit. It’s been much more fun than I anticipated, and my kids have loved it–actually all our extended family has loved it too!

    • Shannon J says:

      What a great idea Christy! Are you saying that the major themes are based on a geographic location which becomes the focus of the study and then ‘subjects’ come from that? I LIKE that idea. (I hope that is what you are saying.) I looked at your blog but it doesn’t include homeschooling – did enjoy seeing your art, though!

      • Christy says:

        Yes, that’s exactly what I was saying. The theme was a country and then I pulled in geography, music, science, history, social studies primarily through arts & crafts. And various components of language arts are also automatically involved in that. I don’t prefer to post our family’s blog address publicly, but if you would like to see what we did, please email me@braysgirl@gmail.com and I will pass on the link to you.
        .-= Christy’s last blog: red wooden chairs =-.

    • Heidi says:

      I love how you incorporated larger events with your global studies. We’ve done that with Mexico, ending in a Cinco de Mayo celebration. I think those celebrations and activities really help to cement the ideas in children’s memories.

  4. Aimee says:

    Heidi!!!! ☺

    Hi. I am so happy that I get to read your wonderful advice in two places!

    This is a great article. We do have a globe that sits on our school table but I think today maybe we will pick a random spot and then collect books, etc, and learn a little something new about that place.

    Aimee
    .-= Aimee’s last blog: Its a love, not love thing… =-.

  5. Mother of Pearl says:

    We don’t use a children’s atlas – we use the great big National Geographic atlas and love it. The kids love the hugeness of the book, all the detail, and all the great information in it. We get it out and start finding places whenever a book they are reading talks about real places, whenever they overhear something on the news, whenever we or someone we know travels, etc. It is also great for looking up flags or oceanic mountain ranges or stars in the sky or so many other things.

    Another way of incorporating geography is to expand on their interests. So when my boys were very interested in bridges, we read books about real bridges – Golden Gate Bridge, Pont d’Avignon, London Bridge, etc, and when they were into trains we looked at real trains – the Flying Scotsman, the TGV, the John Bull, etc and the routes they ran. These are simple small ways to make a child’s world broader.

    • Heidi says:

      Excellent idea! My boys would enjoy that kind of study. We’ve also read 13 Buildings Children Should Know, which introduced them to interesting pieces of architecture around the world.

  6. Annie says:

    Thanks for the great ideas. I’m always looking for ways to teach my kids about different places and cultures of the world. For the last 11 years, we’ve collected childrens books from everywhere we’ve been. Some of our family and friends have contributed knowing we do this. It’s turned out to be a really fun collection and our kids have a great time reading them. We have a fun one about the kiwi of New Zealand, different castles in Europe, and some that are in french, that my kids love!

  7. Shannon J says:

    Two of my four children were adopted internationally and are a different race than the rest of the family. Even though they are still young, having a world view of education has been very important to us and I imagine as they get older will become even more so. We have a children’s globe (the kind that you can point to with a want and it talks and quizes you, etc.) but not a REAL globe. Haven’t seen one that I love enough to buy. I would LOVE a world map for the living room. Does anyone know of where to buy a huge world map that is also beautiful to look at (nice colors)?

    • Heidi says:

      I purchased a lovely map with rich colors from Costco, but it has been some time ago. I understand wanting to have a beautiful map on the wall, rather than simply a functional one, especially in a prominent living space.

  8. We love memorizing the names of states and countries around the world. We use this fun curriculum called Geography Songs.
    http://www.audiomemory.com/geography.php
    I can’t recommend it highly enough!

    • Heidi says:

      This is one of our favorite CDs! The songs are so catchy, and it sure makes learning the names of the countries easy and enjoyable. Thanks for adding the link!

  9. Jill Foley says:

    We are very intentional about making our children globally aware. In addition to a globe, we have a world map on the playroom wall as well as a more detailed map of the US. We also sponsor children all over the world through Compassion International. I involve girls in our letter writing and they love to pray for them before bed. We talk about the countries our kids live in and look for books at the library that will teach us even more. My girls are only 5 and 3 and they enjoy learning about other countries.

    One great book we just finished going through was Children from Australia to Zimbabwe.

    Great post! Great ideas! Thank you…

  10. Rana says:

    My husband bought me a huge world atlas some time ago and now that we have kids. We sit on the floor looking at it and think of the places we would like to go. We also have a world map hanging in our playroom and my son has a map of the USA hanging in his room. We love to get books from the library about people an places from all over the world. The Mitisumasa Anno books are stories with out words he has some great photos of places around the world that he has traveled.
    .-= Rana’s last blog: Life Lesson # 255 : Stranger Danger =-.

    • Heidi says:

      Thank you for reminding me about Mitsumasa Anno! He is one of our favorites, but we haven’t pulled out one of his books to look at for a while.

  11. MomStarr says:

    Heidi, I really enjoy your blog and am glad to see you contributing here too. I spent 2 years in West Africa before I was married and my kids have enjoyed seeing my pictures and souvenirs from there. We have enjoyed our maps, globe, and atlases in our homeschool throughout the years; thanks for the creative reminders to keep incorporating geography into our school!! Lori

    • Heidi says:

      It is a great suggestion to make things personal for kids. Share experiences and photos of your own travels, tell them where friends or family live(d) or are traveling, connect them with pen pals, sponsor children in impoverished areas…

  12. se7en says:

    We love virtual traveling and our kids just love it too!!! This is a great post packed with resources, thank-you so much!!! Otherwise we did a geography “books/links/games” post a while ago you may like to have a look: http://www.se7en.org.za/2009/07/09/se7en-do-geography-heaps-of-resources
    .-= se7en’s last blog: This Week (22 February) at Se7en… =-.

    • Heidi says:

      Wow! What an amazing collection of geography resources and links. You have a few of our favorites on there, and quite a few new-to-me books that I need to check out. Thank you for sharing.

  13. Candace says:

    We are having the BEST year this year doing a year-long unit study I’m calling Around the World. We are spending 1-2 months on each continent and learning about individual countries, customs, people, foods, etc.

    One of my favorite resources as a Christian family has been the book Window on the World. This book shares a little about the country as well as ways you can pray for the people of that country with your family!

    http://www.amazon.com/Window-World-pb-Daphne-Spraggett/dp/1932805915/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1267046437&sr=8-1

    My favorite part of this study is that we are learning about a missionary with each area we study. It is teaching my kids to pray regularly for missionaries too.

    I’ve been putting notes and resources on my blog, here are the posts I”ve shared during our Around the World study thus far:

    http://candacemercyisnew.blogspot.com/search/label/Around%20the%20World

    • Heidi says:

      I would love to do a unit study like that with my boys! I can just imagine the fun you are having. Thanks for sharing that book. It looks wonderful.

  14. jeana says:

    I love this kind of stuff. We go to a website that has pictures on it from the last 24 hours taken around the world. (just posted about this on my blog yesterday!) We talk about the people and where their from and look it up on our globe, and say a prayer for them. Its one of our favorite things to do daily!

    • Heidi says:

      The internet sure has made so much accessible to us and our children. I’ll have to check to see if I can find that website.

  15. Myrrh C. says:

    Another way to spark their interest is to show them where you’ve traveled and tell them what it was like. I’ve been thinking about getting out my scrapbooks from my adventures in Europe to show my oldest two (7 & 5), so thanks for the further incentive :)
    .-= Myrrh C.’s last blog: What I Do With My Picky Eaters =-.

    • Heidi says:

      Yes, I think kids respond really well when they know they are getting first hand information and can try to imagine you being there!

  16. Barb says:

    Heidi,
    I enjoy your blog and your beautiful photography, and I am so happy to see you here! The description of yourself as a girl perfectly describes how my daughter is now. I wish we could afford to travel right now, but in the meantime, one of her favorite things to do is to cozy up in the armchair and read and re-read the DK book you mentioned, Children Just Like Me. People by Peter Spier is also a dog-eared favorite! Thanks for the game suggestions-I think I will choose one of them for her upcoming birthday.

  17. So great to see you here, Heidi! Love this post. We have little laminated maps in all of our reading nooks, we don’t read the name of a place (be it country, city, river or mountain range) without the kids having to (having to, who am I kidding, they jump to do it) search out the place on their map. I love it when they stun people by not only knowing where places like Cambodia are, but the nearby countries as well =)
    .-= Prairie Chick’s last blog: Coat of Arms =-.

  18. Just went back to look through the comments and saw that noone mentioned the Laminated “Mark It” Map from Sonlight. http://www.sonlight.com/MAP.html Great resource for Geography lovers as the kids can mark it all up with dry erase markers, write notes, draw pictures and then you can take pics, wipe it clear and start all over again when it gets too crazy =) We love it, it hangs in our schoolroom.
    .-= Prairie Chick’s last blog: Coat of Arms =-.

  19. Heidi, this was good stuff and I LOVE all YOUR original photos. Have you really visited that cool European street? We like learning about about cultures and geography through the books we read together and blogs we follow. Admittedly, we’re not a big geography family but the thought of hiking through the European alps, snorkeling off the coast of Australia – now that gets this outdoorsy family really excited! Our favorite way to explore is on our feet, in nature. We’ve covered a lot of “geography” in our state that way (smile).

    • Heidi says:

      Ah, exploring on foot is a great way for geography to become personal!

      (And, yes, my husband and I visited that wonderful street in Germany in 2003.)

  20. Juliette V says:

    Hi! We are pretty big into Geography as well … Itchy feet run in our family! Aside from the ‘proper’ geography resources that we work from, I share my stories and photos etc from my own time in Japan (1 year) and Europe (2 years). We also love to talk with my Mum and Dad, who have travelled extensively since the 1960s – it’d be hard to name a place they haven’t been to, lucky ducks! Reading about the Great Pyramids of Giza is fun, but it really comes to life when listening to Poppy tell his stories and looking at a photo of him riding a camel in front of the pyramids, yes? My son also writes to a few penpals overseas, so he personally connects with kids in other countries.

    Something else we like to do is to locate on the map the places that our favourite fictional characters are from (eg: Paddington Bear – Peru, Madeleine – France, Anne of Green Gables – PEI, Canada).

    We also like to play a game we call ‘Shipwrecked’, which incorporates Geography and English work. It uses our reasoning skills, too. Someone picks a place on the globe where they’ve been ‘shipwrecked’ and then writes a plea for rescue … ie: a message in a bottle to set adrift on the ocean. The note describes things like where they set off on their journey from, where they were headed, what happened to shipwreck them, what it is like where they are – eg: temperature, landforms, plants, animals, weather etc. They might even draw a little map of what they can see and mark their makeshift home with an ‘X’. Then those of us who have ‘found’ the bottle with the message need to figure out where they are shipwrecked from the information given, so that we can locate them on a map and go ‘rescue’ them. (It’s fun to actually put the message in a bottle and set it afloat in a tub of water or something to be fished out.)

    Thanks for all of the great resources that have been mentioned in the comments! We’re always looking for some interesting new books etc … Some books we like using that I haven’t seen mentioned here include: the ‘Horrible Geography’ series, ‘My World and Globe’ by Ira Wolfman, ‘A Ride on Mother’s Back’ by Emery & Durga Bernhard, ‘Sacred Journeys’ by Rebecca Hind, and Laurie Krebs’ travel books for the little ones (published through Barefoot Books).

    Also, the website http://www.iknowthat.com has heaps of great games for every single subject, including geography. We also like http://www.passport2play.com, http://www.kidsgeo.com, and http://www.geosense.net (just select ‘Play Alone’ and skip the whole chat thing). Jeana, thanks for the wonderful link from your blog to the website with the photo galleries of each 24 hr period; we’ll make great use of that!

  21. Movies are another idea. There is a great series called “Families of …” which is probably available in your local public library. These are short documentaries on the lives of 2 children in a foreign country.
    You can also watch movies like “Children of Heaven” which is set in Iran which I watched with my 9 year old recently.
    .-= Meryl van der Merwe’s last blog: So – you want to Teach your Kids Geography? updated Tue Mar 30 2010 8:24 pm CDT =-.

  22. Kim Bauer says:

    Thanks for the recommendations on teaching tools for geography. We just finished up a good 6th grade geography book called Daily Geography by Evan Moore, but I found out that it doesn’t continue for 7th and 8th grade. Your recommendations were timely and appreciated as I try to figure out what to do to keep building on geography for my two 7th graders.

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  26. Shannon says:

    Love all the suggestions! One question…Where was the second picture taken? That is such an adorable looking town :)

  27. Cindy says:

    One of our best resources is a book called “Material World” in which families are photographed outside their home with all they own spread out for all the world to see. There is a short photo essay of the life of the family as well, and it features families from all over the world. It is a rich resource that brings up all sorts of comparisons!

  28. DeniseBarrington says:

    Hi, I love to teach my kids geography before they even start learning about history. I think that it is important that the child know where the place that they are studying about is in the world first. So we used the curriculum from My father’s world called Exploring Countries and Cultures. It was amazing. We are getting ready to do this again next year, but with our yongest daughter. We learned so much about different countries and the cool thing is that you can use this curriculum with different grades at the same time (from 3rd to 8th). It has made so much easier for our oldest daughter to learn history because she has actually learned about the countries before. http://www.mfwbooks.com/products/M50/40/10/0/1

    • Becky says:

      I LOVE teaching our kids about geography! I think it is so important to educate children about the larger world- we are part of so much more than our own community. I also believe that when are more aware of other cultures and different perspectives, we are more compassionate. If you would like even more activities, try http://www.kidworldcitizen.org. We might not all have the money to travel the world, but we can still bring the world to our children:).

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  33. Wendy says:

    stamp collecting from the world, via packages in hobby lobby or things we actually recieve in the mail has been fun. Postal crossings is a cool thing to do also.

  34. Robin says:

    We’re doing World Geography this year with our 9th grader and simultaneously introducing a lot of these ideas to our 3 year old. There are some great resources out there. We’ve liked Eat Your Way Around the World and Geography Through Art as they require minimal effort on my part but provide interesting cultural activities for both kids (though we approach it at different levels, of course).

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