Thursday, March 1, 2012

Learning Geography the Fun Way

When I was in elementary school, geography lessons were a snoozefest. Rather than filling me with awe and wonder, I wondered why I needed to know the names and locations of places I couldn’t imagine ever seeing in person! Since I did enjoy getting A’s on quizzes and tests, I studied anyway. However, times have changed, and geography can actually be a fun subject!

Geography isn’t just about memorizing names of countries, states, cities, and rivers. It’s the study of the world God created—from savannahs and deserts to woodlands and rainforests and the arctic tundra. It’s the study of the people in those lands and the animals that inhabit those lands. This subject that bored me in school became exciting when I became a homeschool mom! My children enjoyed learning geography the fun way!

My music-loving daughter can learn anything set to music. She enjoyed CDs that taught the names of the countries, the U.S. states and capitals, the continents, and the oceans set to catchy tunes. My daughter loves to memorize songs, no matter what the content, so this idea has worked well for her.

Did you know that flashcards can be fun? It’s true! My favorite is “To State It Simply, It’s a Capital Game” published by Eagle’s Wings Educational Materials. The flashcards teach the US states and capitals using puns and humorous cartoons. They come in book form to be cut out, and they can be colored too, for a little more fun. The back of each card shows where the state and capital city are on the map. My kids loved those cards!

You can find geography games galore online and at homeschool conferences and curriculum fairs. Some games come in the form of card games and involve matching countries to their continents or bordering countries together. We have Quick Pix Geography and Borderline-world edition. Whoever gets rid of all their cards first, wins! These are best for students who already have a basic knowledge of world geography.

Geography board games work for both beginning and advanced geography students (as well as adults). To study the USA and its national landmarks, try Snapshots Across America - the Vacation Fantasy Game. The board is a map of the USA. Small cars are the markers. The object of the game is to be the first to visit each of the states that you draw from the deck of cards, beginning in your home state. Each card features a city with a landmark or tourist attraction in that state. (What a sneaky way to teach kids about the Golden Gate Bridge, the St. Louis Arch, and the Kennedy Space Center!) Ship and plane cards may help speed you to your destination, but natural disaster cards may hinder you!

I bit more pricey (if you can find it) is the Take Off! game for ages 6 to adult.  Players get a fleet of jets and fly around the world! The board is actually a 48" x 21.5" laminated world map. The game comes with two 8-sided dice and about 200 country profile cards filled with information about the various countries of the world. If your children love racing games, they may love traveling around the world with this game. Young children cannot play this by themselves; they will need help.

National Geographic offers a variety of geography games. Some are available for download for a small price. If you plan to participate in a geography bee (my kids did until they aged out), you’ll want to check out the National Geographic website for some fun ideas.

Those are just a few of the means I have used to teach geography. I didn’t buy the products all at once! One of the games I purchased used, and the others I bought one at a time, usually once a year. If you’re on a tight budget, you might ask your local homeschool support group if anyone has used games and CDs they no longer use. Perhaps a grandparent would be willing to bless your family with this kind of game during the gift-giving season.

My final suggestion for teaching kids geography is to invent games, such as Stump the Adult. For this game, the students pick a country on a map or globe, and a parent or other adult has to guess which one it is by asking yes or no questions! Now, this game won’t work if you don’t know basic geography terms, so brush up on those map skills! Then you can ask questions such as, “Is it in the Northern Hemisphere?” or “Does it border an ocean?” This game can be played while you are preparing meals, driving down the road, or sitting in the dentist’s waiting room. Your children will be encouraged to learn their geography so that they can impress you with their knowledge! 

Ask your children to make up some geography games. Their ideas might just amaze and impress you!

Also seen at: Christian Online Magazine

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