As many as one in five American children are incapable of finding their home country on a map. There still isn’t a dedicated geography course for children within the US, but educators are starting to put a greater emphasis on geography in order to rectify the situation. This involves finding ways to measure progress that are compatible with how young children reason, and finding ways to connect geography to other disciplines in a way that’s compelling. With a little effort and cooperation, parents and educators can teach kids geography and ensure that kids grow up to become geographically literate adults.
Ways To Get Kids Learning Geography
One of the easiest ways to measure progress is to have kids draw maps of the entire world from memory. This should be done at the beginning and the end of the school year. Geography is in many ways a visual discipline, and children who are encouraged to map out spaces within their heads will likely grasp key concepts more easily than those who are asked to memorize lists of locations.
Put Maps Everywhere
A child should never be in an environment where a map isn’t hanging on the wall or there isn’t an atlas on the nearest bookshelf. Exposure breeds familiarity and it can also breed curiosity. In some cases merely stoking the flames of a child’s innate desire to learn is enough to improve his performance and teach him what he wouldn’t learn otherwise.
Make Locations Real to Children
It’s one thing to talk about China. It’s something altogether different to discuss Mandarin and it’s unique properties compared to English, and to show kids pictures of city streets and how they’re laid out from above. Some kids learn more easily when they can connect people and culture to places, and they have more of a reason to remember where countries are if they possess supplementary knowledge about why they would or wouldn’t want to go there.
Challenge Kids to Design Countries
The easiest way to grasp why maps are structured the way they are is to create one, and that involves creating smaller and larger maps that account for roads and major structures. When children understand the processes that map creators go through it’s easier for them to understand what someone else has created, and bridging any remaining gaps in their knowledge is far simpler beyond that point.
Show Changes Over Time
A country’s borders aren’t static, and neither is its population or the layouts of its towns, villages and cities. This has the added benefit of tying into history; some children have an easier time with names, locations and dates when they can piece together what the environment may have looked like during the era they’re studying.
Kids always learn better with a hands-on approach. Adding activities like cooking international cuisine with their parents or celebrating cultural holidays can do wonders for a child’s capacity to understand the world beyond his home. If it’s possible to travel, taking a child to see different places is the best teaching tool, but it’s a luxury that not every family can afford. Encouraging him to think about the places he’d like to visit makes a great substitute, and it provides all the more motivation for him to excel both in school and in life.
Guest post by Scott Naisbit who writes for education blogs. Interested in the field of geography? Several schools offer GIS degrees including University of Southern California and University of Maryland.