Friday, May 4, 2012

Geography in your Household

We've all seen the bits on the news (or on shows like letterman) where adult US citizens can't even Identify the United States on an unlabeled map.  Trouble is, despite the fact that our world is becoming more and more "connected" and interconnected.  Geography is not formally addressed in most school curricula.  It is simply assumed that it will be handled as a part of social studies but there is not necessarily some one overseeing that there aren't gaps and/or repeats in what is taught over the entire course of geographical encounters in a given student's education.

National content standards are available as suggestions and state standards are adhered to within the state many states (even in the private schools as a part of their accreditation requirements).  However, standards are often vague and in the case of the subjects such as science, social studies and the arts are generally just left up to individual teachers to address or not during most of the elementary school years.  These subjects - at the Elementary level - are seen as secondary and inferior in importance to reading, writing and 'rthmatic.  This means that when it comes to geography in particular, the standards for one grade my be addressed systematically but at the next grade level they're hardly considered.  Of course some schools are more systematic than others however, by the time our children get to Middle School many students have fallen way behind when compared internationally (of course, they also fall way behind in mathematics as well).  

So, in your busy schedule what is a parent to do?
Alice's Imaginary World
Map to Treasure Island
For starters, having a world map hanging somewhere in your home that the whole family can easily see and access frequently has advantages for all of the subjects your child will study in school.  Places of the world come up while watching the news, reading books, learning about biology and ecology etc.  Even in high school chemistry where scientists were from or where a discovery was made is often shared or discussed. There are also mathematical concepts and skills introduced through using a map.  It only takes an extra minute or two to locate a place on a map.

Preschool and Early Elementary:  
Children at this age are only beginning to imagine a world beyond their own. The youngest members of this group are not really ready to understand geography in its traditional sense until they begin to engage in imaginary play with others so don't expect a lot of recall.  However, you can begin to introduce them to maps and the idea of different places.  By watching you locate and talk about distant places with the younger child him/herself or with an older sibling the idea of the map and the idea that there are places in the world other than those you regularly visit is introduced.  More and more of the information that is imparted in this way (in little tiny spurts here ane there) will be gleaned and retained as your child ages and starts to recognize patterns in your actions and discussions.

Introducing what maps are through play is another GREAT way to get them started.  During some family time go on a walk and draw a map together of your neighborhood.  Talk about the map showing your neighborhood they way a bird might see it.  Discuss the "culture" of your neighborhood.  What makes it unique to other neighborhoods?  

On another family day, you can map out an obstacle course on paper and then create the obstacle course in your yard.  

When reading a book with 'real" places, go ahead and point those places out on the family map.  In Mo Willems' series Knuffle Bunny, the family goes on a trip to see Sonja's Grandparents in the final book, "Knuffle Bunny Free".  What a great opportunity to just point out this journey quickly on a map.
Many games (video games too) involve a map-like board or view of the video game world.  For example,  Candyland is laid out on a game board presented as a cartoon-style map.  Pixie hollow has been mapped out by the creators of the Tinkerbell movies and made into an online video game complete with a map of pixie hollow.  Although I do not suggest this is a GREAT learning tool, I do offer it as an example of the kind of thing you might run into with your four-year-old or early elementary child that can become an opportunity to discuss how maps symbolize the greater world around us (or imaginary worlds we create).

You can also check out the articles "Map Happy" and "Geogrpahy Safari" on this blog for two activities to do with mature preschoolers, kindergartners or first graders.

After you've introduced your child to what a map is, If you have a particularly imaginative child, you might ask him/her to draw a map of the worlds he or she creates in his/her play while you make dinner.  Then discuss that world and what the map shows about that world with your child during your dinner discussions.  

We all know about Dora the Explorer and her cousin Diego.  These cartoons are fun and entertaining for our kids.  They do not explore either geography, or Spanish as deeply as they may want parents to believe, but they do introduce the idea of a second language and second culture . . . and Dora uses "Map" in every episode.

V-tech has a globe where your child can "fly" a plane around the globe and depending on where they "land" the globe states little bits of information about that place.  Then there are follow up games where the globe asks the child to find something and the child "flies" the plane to the something that is being looked for.  They also offer other games and tools related to geography for various ages.

Two great picture books I read with my own preschooler are Grandma went to Market by Stella Blackstone and All in Just one Cookie by Susan E. Goodman.  These are so memorable that even though I initially read them to my little one months ago she has asked that we check them out from the library again.

There are puzzles of the United States and of the World available that offer the opportunity for your child to play around with his/her spacial skills while becoming familiar with the shapes of the continents or states.

A treasure map and treasure hunt is a classic "pretend" for our preschool-Elementary aged children.  Go ahead, "bury" a treasure and then give your child a map to a clue where another map is found etc.  This activity will probably be asked for again and again.

Reading Maps and Math Share a certain number of vocabulary words and skills that can easily be practiced when the family has a wall map to refer to frequently.

Math and Map Vocabulary
Directional Words - East, West, etc.
Distance Words - far, farther, farthest, near, nearer. . .
Distance Measures - Miles, Kilometers, Inches. . .
Using Symbols to represent an entire idea.  For example: + in math, Little people for restrooms on a map.

For Kids of Any School Age:
Things for which you can use your map:

Place pins or tacks in the places you've been or where you will be going.  Compare distances.  Depending on the age of the children, this comparison can be as simple as, "which place is the furtherst" or as complex as estimate the number of miles to the last family vacation location and then guess how much further we'll be going this year.  Older kids might even measure out the route and use the map scale to calculate actual distances.  A pre-algebra student might get asked, "If we traveled at 65m/hr the whole time, how long will it take to get there?"  Include family member's homes on the map if you have relatives in distant places.

Find locations mentioned in books that are read, movies that are seen, or news articles you read together or newscasts you watched together,  You can consider the same types of questions as presented in the paragraph above for these locations as well.

You can also identify locations of importance to school projects and discussions on your wall map.

Please feel free to add your own creative ideas by making comments below.  I know there are other wonderful books and games out there too, please inform!

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