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How parents can help kids learn geography

Geography is a way of thinking, of asking questions, and of observing and appreciating the world around us. It gives us tools we need to move about in the world, to make wise decisions about our environment, and to relate more meaningfully to people from other lands and cultures. You can help your children learn geography by offering them interesting and fun activities and by encouraging them to ask questions about their surroundings.

Everyday learning experiences


Young children learn through their senses and experiences. They touch, feel, smell, and taste things. They run and jump and climb. They play imaginary games, and they ask a million questions.

In an everyday walk, these children are beginning to understand how people relate to the Earth, how they change the environment, how weather changes the character of a place, and how one place relates to another through the movement of people, things, and ideas.

Children's everyday play and experiences give them the basis for the geographic knowledge that they will learn in school. With just a little encouragement and some direction, young children will develop the vocabulary, awareness, and curiosity that will help them better understand and learn geography.

Activities to consider

  • Read with them -- especially about other places and other people.
  • Keep maps and globes around the house and let your children see you use them.
  • Look and explore. Go exploring with them and become aware of your surroundings.
  • Ask, ask, ask. Ask questions about what you see. Ask about shape and color and why things are located in a particular spot.
  • Talk about the weather and how it changes what you wear and what you can do.
  • Celebrate your own cultural heritage.
  • Experiment with other cultures. Eat their food and sing their songs.
  • Talk about where ideas, products, and people come from.
  • Travel in different ways: Bus, car, bicycle, subway train. Jumping, running, climbing.

    Talk the talk
    How you talk about and relate to the world is important to your children. Help your children build accurate mental images by using the right geographic terms. For instance, say, "We're going north to Maine to visit Grandma," or "west to California to see Tio Pablo," rather than "up to Maine," or "out to California." Many words used in geography are everyday words. But, like any other field of learning, geography has a vocabulary of its own.

    Use maps as often as possible. As you plan outings and trips, as you watch television shows, or read stories to your children, keep a map close by. Children who grow up around maps and atlases are more likely to get the "map habit" than those who don't. So, get a good atlas, as well as a dictionary. Check public library used - -book sales or yard sales for good buys. You can often get maps at little or no cost.

    Extra value
    Helping young children learn geography has added benefits. While you and your children are doing the activities in this booklet, you are also:

     

  • spending time together, reading, and doing things of interest to both of you.
  • teaching vocabulary by linking words with experiences.
  • introducing the language and rhythm of stories, songs, and poetry.
  • helping your children express ideas through art, movement, and tactile activities.
  • introducing mathematics and science, by promoting observation and inquiry.
  • making children aware of their own customs and folklore.
  • learning about the diversity and multicultural nature of our nation and the world.

    The activities suggested are only a few examples of the many ways you can bring geographic thinking into your children's early experiences. Such simple, enjoyable activities can stimulate children's interest in geography and give them a basic understanding that lays the foundation for study.

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