One thing that bothered me about my education was that I knew very little geography, even after completing college. I felt that since my kids are educated at home, I have the opportunity to make sure that they know the geography of the world. Yes, I know that boundaries and country names change, but it is still a reasonable goal for kids (and adults).
It is important to know one’s own country, so I started with the United States. I found a plethora of great ideas on Pinterest. This was great because many of the ideas I found were free or very cheap.
The first step: Practice with a Puzzle
The first step I took was to have my kids put together a puzzle I found on Pinterest. I printed it out two copies and cut out the pattern, which had regional pieces. My younger kids, 8 and under, put together the regional puzzle (see image below on the left). For my older kids, I cut out most states and had them put it together (see image below on the right).
The second step: Label States and Capitals
I went to Owl and Mouse, a site that maps you can print for free that can be as small as 1 page or as large 64 pages, or anywhere in between, and printed out the map of the United States for my kids 8 and up. I got tired of making 3 copies of the map for my kids to label, so I made a 4 sheet by 4 sheet map of the United States, had Staples make 2 additional copies, and laminate them. It was $12.
The advantage of this is that I’m saving a bunch on ink and paper. My kids can use wet erase markers to label, then get a wet rag to wipe them off each day. I could have my kids use a dry erase maker, but that comes with a disadvantage: it smudges or accidentally erases as they label other states.
My 8 and 11 year-olds both label just the states while looking at the map puzzles or another map. After a few days, I had them label as many states as possible without looking at a map. As you may be able to see from the picture above, my 8 year old misspelled some of the states. This didn’t bother me one bit because I knew correct spelling would come with more practice. Instead, I was happy to see progress since he didn’t know any United States geography a week before.
My 13 year old already memorized the locations for 45 states before we started, so he labels states and their capitals. Once they have the states memorized, they’ll add labeling the states, too. All three boys trace the shape of the continental United States.
Additional activities to add variety that are completely optional, but fun:
Just for fun, we watch Animaniacs Wakko’s America on youtube. My kids watch and sing the states and their capitals with Wakko.
One of my kids’ favorite activities are Hot Dots cards from Educational Insights. My kids like them because the special pens that are used with the cards either make special noises or have silly sayings to let them know if they pressed the pen on the correct or incorrect answer. Each card is two sided, includes a one question multiple choice quiz, interesting state information and a map.
The third step: Label and Draw Major Rivers, Lakes, and Mountain Ranges
I went back to Owl and Mouse. I can choose to have the maps labeled, the physical features printed so the kids can place them on the map, they can color them in on a printed map, etc.
I started out with the “Rivers Labeled Map.” I printed a copy out and let them copy it onto the laminated map from step 2. (see graphic below)
Then, I had them add the mountain ranges and lakes. Since our maps are larger than 1 piece of paper, I just printed out the map of “Key for Finished Map” and labeled it myself (see graphic below). Then, my kids drew and labeled their own mountain ranges, rivers, and lakes using a wet erase marker.
My kids practice these steps 3 or 4 times per week. This is working so well, I plan to use a similar method as we learn the rest of the countries in North America and the World.
What has your family done to learn and practice geography skills? I enjoy finding out what my readers do because you often have great ideas that add to the variety in our lives.