Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Ten+ Ways We Studied Geography

One of the key principles which Julie Bogart from Bravewriter advocates is the One Thing Principle  - basically pick one thing, focus on it and do it really well. Over at the Homeschool Alliance she provides monthly suggestions for that one thing. This month the suggestion is Countries and Continents. I doubt we'll be engaging with this one thing. After an entire year of geography in 2015 I think Miss 15 is "done" with this line of study for now!

However it did get me thinking about all the ways we've tackled geography over the years. While Miss 15 and Mr 18 both have Geography listed on their high school transcript neither of their older siblings did. We did cover plenty of geography though,especially in the middle school years, in many different ways. Here, in no particular order, are ten of my favourites.

1. Mystery Class - A fabulous 10 week online treasure hunt to find ten mystery locations based on changes to their photoperiod plus other clues. My kids have participated several times and the two youngest had the opportunity to actually be one the mystery classes.

2. Integrating geography with other subjects - Two history programmes that we used fairly extensively - Story of the World and History Odyssey - integrated a variety of geography, especially mapwork. Science (in the form of geology) has huge overlaps with geography. Art and music can be big components of culture which is another important aspect of geography.

3. Postcard Exchanges - We've participated in a variety. Using a yahoo group - I think it was this one - we twice managed to collect a postcard from each of the 50 states. I know many people have trouble getting the full set. Being outside the United States was probably an advantage for us since the novelty of getting a card from New Zealand meant people were more than willing to trade with us! When the cards arrived we'd take the opportunity to do a little more research about each state. More recently we signed up to Postcrossing and mentioned Miss 15' s interest in birds. Result - postcards featuring birds from all over the world and a spur to learn a bit more about the bird and the country. Stamps and coins could be used in a similar way.

4. Flat Travellers - We made flat friends and sent them around the world using this yahoo group. I see there are Facebook pages now. Most (but not all) of our travellers arrived safely home with a written journal, photos and a variety of souvenirs from their travels. We hosted plenty of Flat Travellers too, showing them around out city and teaching them a little about our county. Geography doesn't just mean learning about other countries. It includes learning about your own part of the world too.

5. Workbooks - These aren't normally seen as exciting but they can get the job done and some kids (including some of mine) actually like them. We often used workbooks in unconventional ways. One winter a child and I were regularly waiting in the car for an hour while another child was in an activity. I filled a folder with pages from a range of workbooks (including geography ones) and she could pick and choose what to do and could use wipe off markers (since the pages were in page protectors) or window markers on the car windows. I'm sure the different location and different writing implement made the workbook pages more alluring. Some workbooks are more like puzzle books and my kids did them for fun. One year we used a 5 minute practice book, chopped up the questions and out them in a jar. At dinner we'd all - parents too - pull out a question and work together (if need be) to come up with the answer. We sometimes did the same thing with flashcards.

6. Board and card games. There's a big variety of these, more so than when my kids were younger. Apart from playing games you can also design your own. Or add to an existing game. One game we owned was National Geographic's Mystery Voyage. There was a picture clue and you rolled dice to travel around the board collecting other clues about the pictured place. The winner was the first person to correctly guess the location. My kids found pictures of locations they liked and then made their own clue cards to go along with them.

7. Computer games and apps. - Last year we used Lizard Point and Seterra to help us memorize the locations of all the countries in the world. Memrise has a variety of geography related courses as well. The daily GeoBee quiz is another that we used.

8. Magazine Subscriptions - We subscribed to Faces for a number of years. The kids were always eager to devour it when it arrived.

9. Maps and globes - One year we put up a large blank map of the world on our wall. Several times a week we'd mark a country, city or feature on it. Sometimes the trigger was a book we were reading, sometimes it was something in the news. One year we used our globe and inspired by a blog post from Melissa Wiley moved our Mr Putty to whatever place we had just read or heard about. It is important to use both maps and globes since the world looks very different on each. Try and use a variety of maps with different scales and projections as well. Just having them up on the wall in a heavily used area leads to lots of unintentional learning. We've had maps in the bathroom and in the dining room for this reason.

10. Field Trips - Overseas travel would have been nice but that hasn't been in the budget! Still our city runs a variety of events that gives us an insight into other cultures. If we are out of town we make sure to stop and see first hand any special land forms or other features. And of course a road trip is a great chance to practice map reading skills.

Plus, a couple of extra ideas I couldn't leave out.

10A. Books and movies- We read fiction and watched movies set in a variety of different countries, we used cookbooks to make dishes from other countries, we read non-fiction books and viewed documentaries about other countries and the people who lived there, we skimmed through atlases and I had a guide book on hand to browse through and refer to if I wanted some inspiration on how to add more geography to our homeschooling days.

10B. Lappacks and Notebooking. At various times the children have researched a country of their choice and we've used lappacks and notebooking pages to record their learning. There doesn't have to be much writing which can be a bonus for younger kids or reluctant writers. We've used purchased ones, made our own, and sometimes combined elements of each.

 Linking up at iHomeschool Network's Top Ten Tuesdays.


  1. This sounds interesting. I am headed over to Julie's to see what it says. Thanks for posting. Oh and that book Keilee started today is "Animal Behavior-A Beginners Guide by John Abyers. I am not sure exactly how 'beginner' it is. She got it on Kindle.

  2. What fun ideas! We have had the pleasure of taking a flat traveler or two along on our travelers and had fun giving them experiences and writing about it before sending them on their way. We do a lot of traveling which makes geography so REAL, but you can't see everywhere!!! We love the postcard exchange and would love to try that one day. I'm going to look up the Postcrossing. Great tip, thanks!