Making Geography Meaningful
“Everything has to do with geography” - Judy Martz
Geography, like history, is traditionally taught by rote. Studying geography in this way not only has the potential to stifle a child’s love of learning, but they may very well forget all the memorized information the minute its convenient. Charlotte Mason says this about teaching geography:
“Give him next intimate knowledge, with the fullest details, of any country or region of the world, any county or district of his own country. It is not necessary that he should learn at this stage [the early years] what is called the 'geography' of the countries of Europe, the continents of the world––mere strings of names for the most part: he may learn these, but it is tolerably certain that he will not remember them. But let him be at home in any single region; let him see, with the mind's eye, the people at their work and at their play, the flowers and fruits in their seasons, the beasts, each in its habitat; and let him see all sympathetically, that is, let him follow the adventures of a traveller; and he knows more, is better furnished with ideas, than if he had learnt all the names on all the maps.”¹
Geography is more than about learning definitions of various physical features of the earth and its atmosphere, but rather it should be focused on allowing students to make meaningful, lasting relationships with various people and places throughout our world. We begin to see how education is the science of relations plays out practically when we realize that geography, similar to history, is naturally tangled up with literature, history, music and so much more!
Thankfully, we don’t have to look very far to see how natural opportunities arise to teach geography concepts in regular time spent outside. Especially in the early years, we would be remiss if we failed to capitalize on the countless opportunities naturally presented during time spent outside. It may take some creativity at first, but we can easily find moments to teach everything from the position of the sun, to the weather, or even concepts of directions and boundaries - but the key is getting outside.
“...The child gets his rudimentary notions of geography as he gets his first notions of natural science, in those long hours out of doors of which we have already seen the importance. A pool fed by a mere cutting in the fields will explain the nature of a lake, will carry the child to the lovely lakes of the Alps, to Livingstone's great African lake… In this connection will come in a great deal of pleasant talk about places, 'pictorial geography,' until the child knows by name and nature the great rivers and mountains, deserts and plains, the cities and countries of the world. At the same time, he gets his first notions of a map from a rude sketch, a mere few lines and dots, done with pencil and paper, or, better still, with a stick in the sand or gravel.”²
It might seem impressive if a child can recite all the states and capitals, or fill out a blank world map with all of the countries. But, I'd exhort you to remember that education is a life; and as Charlotte Mason so aptly puts it, “Give your child a single valuable idea, and you have done more for his education than if you had laid upon his mind the burden of bushels of information.”³
¹, ² Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p. 275
³ Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p. 174