by Meredith Flory
A strong awareness of geography and quality Social Studies instruction can positively impact today’s students as they grow up with global opportunities for learning, working, and traveling. While unfortunately not always given as much attention, historical, cultural, and geographical awareness can help students make connections in other subject areas. The Georgia Council for the Social Studies, in their position statement available online, shares that the quality social studies instruction they advocate for can help students “develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society, in an interdependent world.” While as parents we can absolutely help advocate for the teaching of social studies in our schools, and assist our children’s educators by encouraging their schoolwork in this area, there are also ways to supplement this learning at home, helping our children with global awareness in ways that will feel fun, and perhaps make good presents for a birthday or Valentine’s surprise.
Globes and Maps
Access to globes or maps can increase interest in learning about the world around us, and can be used a playroom or bedroom decoration in addition to being a good resource to have around for older children doing schoolwork. There are a variety of interactive globes available online that can encourage children through touch pens to learn more about the countries they seek out, or to play games. For families that travel or move a lot, a scratch map that allows the family to mark off places they have been may be a fun way for young children to begin to comprehend travel time and distances, and you can find both USA scratch maps and full Earth ones (which are generally larger and more expensive). For a bright touch in a playroom, consider a stick on wall map. For around $10 on Amazon, the company Home Evolution has a large wall decal with oceans, continents, and animals for each habitat marked – many other decor companies make these as well with different fonts, colors, and focuses.
We’ve been supplementing our homeschool curriculum with the Little Passports subscription service since August. Each month we receive a package with information from a different country – usually a small toy or craft, stickers to mark on the passport and luggage that came with the first month, a postcard sized picture, and a booklet with stories and activities, as well as a link online with supplemental features like more printouts, music, and photographs. Recommended for ages 6-10, younger children will need assistance with some of the reading and activities, while older children may be able to do all of the things themselves. Since my daughter is younger, I use the package as a teaching tool, and she enjoys connecting the activities to other stories and things we are doing. Starting at $16.95, with bundle options, possible add-ons, and other kits, such as a Little Passports USA Edition Subscription, (recommended for ages 7-12 and starting at $14.95) for a larger investment these can be a great way to get students excited to receive educational activities through the mail.
Little Passports is also not the only option for a subscription geography service. The well rated and popular Kiwi Co also offers the Atlas Crate (ages 6-11 and starting at $19.95 with lower rates for bundles) where children will make their own globe and receive items related to a different country each month for hands on learning and collecting over time. Popular Beloved magazine publisher Highlights offers it’s Highlights Which Way U.S.A. book club where children (recommended for ages 7+ prices on website) can receive a booklet of puzzles, maps, and more teaching geography through the interactive magazine format that Highlights is so well known for.
Puzzles and Toys
Several high quality toy brands make geography items perfect for little ones learning about the world around them. Map and globe puzzles can help children learn names of places, as well as other facts that might be printed on the puzzles, and how states or countries fit together. Melissa and Doug make several map puzzles, ranging from large floor puzzles to smaller wooden puzzles. Learning Resources produces both a puzzle globe, to help children learn continent and ocean names, and a magnetic U.S.A. puzzle, that at under $20 is a great gift when a family is short on space – the puzzle could be completed on a refrigerator or other metal surface and put away. For older children and teens, a lot of board games teach geography related concepts about travel, map reading, and use of resources, and can encourage both family time and learning. Popular games Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride both touch on these critical thinking skills and come in junior versions. Trivia Games such as Brain Box and Trivial Pursuit often have geography and culture specific question sets, dependent on the version.
Books and Media
National Geographic has amazing resources for kids learning about different cultures, habitats, and other geography related subjects. They produce atlases for children at varying reading levels, and their website, kids.nationalgeographic.com has videos, articles, games and more – we often use their YouTube channel when looking to supplement our learning at home with well-made, trusted videos. They also have available apps, such as GeoBee Challenge (suggested for grades 4-8) and the National Geographic World Atlas app – one app for learning, and one for quizzing your knowledge.
While I do not have a copy, on our wishlist is the book Maps by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski, a gorgeously illustrated atlas for children I’ve had suggested and been able to look through at several other military families’ homes that also has an available activity book or poster version. My children enjoy the “Lift-the-Flap” learning books from Usborne, and they have several geography related books in this line and others. My friend, Dr. Morgan Menefee-Crabtree, a teacher and Usborne books consultant shares that some of her favorites to suggest are the Big Picture Atlas for younger children, Maps Activity Pad, where “each map is meant to be torn out of the pad and written on, so you can easily divvy them up to keep the kids busy.” For older children that are branching out beyond maps, she suggests books like A Short History of the World or See Inside World Religions to help them understand the history and cultures of different geographic locations. Previously reviewed for this column, I See Me! Books also has two personalizable books that show a child traveling and introduce concepts like state flags.
This article appears in the February 2019 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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