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How to Bring Geography to Life for Your Middle Schooler

One of my kids’ favorite subjects over the years has been – hands down – geography.

Although my kids are all avid readers, there’s something about the hands-on and multi-sensory approaches and applications to “real life” of this subject that goes beyond books. There is a myriad of ways to teach geography, and an equal amount of fun, interesting and practical ways to apply it.

Although my kids are all avid readers, there's something about the hands-on and multi-sensory approaches and applications to "real life" of this subject that goes beyond books. There is a myriad of ways to teach geography, and an equal amount of fun, interesting and practical ways to apply it.

I realize, however, that not all kids feel the same way.

So if you have kiddos who may be asking “Why do we have to study geography?” or “How on earth (no pun intended!) will I be using geography when I grow up?”, here are some practical ways to teach the subject. Actually, with some of these approaches, unless you tell them, they won’t even realize they are learning geography!

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Connect it to holidays as they occur

  • Locate Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, map out the history of Santa Claus (or at least how he’s been interpreted in other countries), July 4th could lend itself to finding England on a map of Europe (as in who-we-broke-away-from) or the cities of our 2 other US capitols before D.C. (do you know where they were?) on a US blackline map, or even Israel for Passover or Hanukah…

Watch the news…with a map at hand

  • CNN Student News has a daily news program on the internet that presents stories your child will most likely hear, see or read on other adult news sources, and “translates” them into short, easier-to-understand summaries. They cover US and world events, so print out a blank blackline map or two, have a box of colored pencils handy, and map out where the stories are located each day!

Make connections to family and friends

  • We support a number of friends in world missions, so I put up this world map in a spare bedroom, and we’ve pinned where they’re all located. But even if you don’t know missionaries in other countries, you can locate friends, or become penpals and locate them, or use a US map and make connections to those closer to home.

world map of missionaries

Explore your family’s geneology

  • Most families in the US have some starting point for their family roots outside the US. Have your kids spend some time talking to grandma or grandpa and discovering how far back they can remember and what country their “grands” may have come from! And, of course, there are wonderful on-line tools to do further research.

Take advantage of family game night

  • Need some games that emphasize geographic learning? Here are some geography gamesfor starters:

Geography Games

Take advantage of family movie night

  • Whether you explore Netflix or the local video store, see if you can come up with some family-friendly movies that take place in other countries. You can use it as a basis for a unit study, or at the very least, print out a map of that country and see if you can find some of the cities mentioned, or the land forms, or rivers or mountains or famous landmarks, or… There are 2 really good Facebook groups built around the subject of using Netflix and Amazon here and here, and InstantWatcher.com is a search engine site where you can find streaming videos through a variety of filters.

Start a Flat Stanley-type project

  • When our 2 older kids were younger, we lived in a community where volunteers were constantly coming and going from around the world. What an exciting time for geography studies! We bought a small, stuffed bear that came with a backpack, tucked a small notebook in it, and asked our friends who were leaving to pass it around as they traveled. Inside the notebook, we asked the person who had it on a certain date to mail it back to us. It was like Christmas when he came home! The backpack contained pictures, small souvenirs, and notes from people all over the world. And we had such fun mapping out his travels 🙂 Today, of course, “there’s an app for that”, so you could probably replicate this project with a little more high-tech involved!

Go geocaching

  • Geocaching is the process of using satellite technology to locate finds, or “caches.” Caches can range from Tupperware containers to tackle boxes to coffee cans. Reading and using the coordinates shown (which appear when you get close to your find) will help your kids understand the real-life connecting between lines of longitude and latitude and just how specifically they identify an exact location.

Foods of the World - introducing your kids to foods and cultures around the world

Bake an apple pie together

  •  ….or discover a recipe or two from another country and get in the kitchen!  “Foods of the World” (right) is a great series right), and all 5 books are available for Kindle download for a whopping $1.98! Each of the 5 books in the set highlights foods from a region of the world: Asia, Europe, Middle East, North America and South America. A great way to introduce world culture studies…all starting from baking up a simple, US favorite!!

Take (or at least plan!) a family vacation or short-term mission trip

  • Explore places by looking through National Geographic, or Googling foreign countries, or checking with traveling friends your church where there may be some foreign mission destinations, and plot your adventure!  Whether or not it comes to pass, you’ll have a great time exploring geography together and learning tons

Don’t forget International Day!

  • Are you a member of a homeschool co-op? If not, why not gather a group of friends and have fun putting an International Day together? Sometimes all it takes is learning with friends to put a different spin on the process… Find all the details you need here.

 

My favorite source for blackline maps, which you can use for many of these projects, comes from Bright Ideas Press. Their WonderMaps contain oodles of maps, both contemporary and historical. Check out the short video on their website to see all the ways you can format the maps to adapt to whatever use you’re planning!

If, after going through some or all of these ideas, you still find that you need or would like to try a tried-and-true curriculum, one of our favorite curriculum also comes from Bright Ideas Press. Their NorthStar program is available as a hard-copy book, or as an audiobook if you’re comfortable with self-paced studies, and recently they introduced it as an on-line course. What is really cool, however, is that you can get the geography curriculum in a bundle with the maps! (Saves money and helps you get the full value out of both programs 😉 !)

In this digital age, as our world appears to get smaller and smaller – or at least more reachable – geography is even more so an important subject matter to cover. As we become more familiar with people and places from far and wide, it’s crucial to have a context within which to make connections.

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It’s never too late to start learning about the world we live in – as a matter of fact, now’s a great time!

Do you study geography as a subject, or as part of a cross-curricular unit study, or using real life approaches, or…? We’d love to hear how you bring the world to your homeschool in the comments below!

WonderMaps by Bright Ideas Press

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Pat is a Yankee city-girl who has been adopted by the sleepy, sunny south. Married for 30 years and the mother of 5, she woke up one day recently to discover she reached the stage of life where she is the “older woman” described in Titus 2:3-5. A coffee lover, the purchase of a coffee shop a few years ago was her personal foray into the small, family-owned business arena.Today, PatAndCandy.com is her outlet for packaging up and sharing the nuggets of wisdom God and life experiences have taught her.
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10 Responses to How to Bring Geography to Life for Your Middle Schooler

  1. Rachael DeBruin May 1, 2016 at 3:07 pm #

    Some fantastic ideas! I have to admit I don’t enjoy teaching Geography, but these actually sound fun 🙂

    • Pat May 1, 2016 at 3:23 pm #

      Rachael,
      I have to admit I never like learning about geography when I was in school…but thankfully I’ve learned a LOT about how to make it fun now that I’m the one doing the teacher! It’s actually quite fun – hope some of these activities help you have a similar experience 🙂

  2. Leah April 25, 2016 at 10:25 am #

    These are great ideas! I especially like the idea of using your geneology to look at geography.

    • Pat April 25, 2016 at 5:32 pm #

      Thanks, Leah! It would be especially interesting if you found some ancestors from a small-ish or not too well-known country!

  3. Patty April 24, 2016 at 11:14 pm #

    What a great list of suggestions!

    We have tried many of them; I just came across our Flat Stanley pictures that we took about 15 years ago.

    We have never tried geocaching. Maybe this is something we will take up in the future!

    • Pat April 25, 2016 at 7:37 am #

      Thank you! 🙂 Yeah, Flat Stanley has been around for years..but, like all things, he goes through ebbs and flows in popularity. We’ve haven’t done much geocaching lately, with all the activities the kids are doing, but considering recent tech advances, I’m hoping to start it up again with them (before they ALL leave!!!)…
      Thanks for stopping by – have a great week!

  4. Mother of 3 April 19, 2016 at 8:29 pm #

    My kids love geography! Sometimes we’ll pick a state or a country and read all the wonderful picture books we can find about it. We’ll find slideshows of pictures online too. We participated in a 50 state postcard exchange one year mapping each card as we received it (we didn’t get all 50 but we came close). We have puzzles and play games and I have often found my kids looking at the map to see where the stories we’re reading are taking place. Right now we’re reading the 39 clues and it has been great for geography and talking about traveling.
    Mother of 3 recently posted…Teaching While DrivingMy Profile

    • Pat April 20, 2016 at 6:58 am #

      Those are some SUPER ideas! I love the 50 State postcard exchange – how did you get that one started?? Your kids are well on their way to being caring and knowledgeable citizens – kudos to you, mom!!
      Thanks for sharing those ideas! I hope someone tries them out, too – and wouldn’t it be great if they shared about it here?! 😉
      Have a great day!!
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      • Mother of 3 April 21, 2016 at 9:02 am #

        We were lucky enough to stumble upon an exchange through one of the Facebook homeschooling groups. Another homeschooler out west somewhere was organizing it and needed more people from our area. We mailed out 4 postcards a month for a year (and 5 postcards the first month). It was lots of fun getting mail and a few people included recipes too so we started cooking our way across the United States. I ended up buying a cook book about the 50 states to go along with our postcards and we tried to read at least a few books about the states we were receiving cards from each month. It was a lot of work and by the end my kids were hating filling out the postcards but in reality they each only wrote one postcard a month as I would write up the fourth. They sure did love getting them and would fight over who got to read them out loud at dinner.
        Mother of 3 recently posted…My Favorite BooksMy Profile

        • Pat April 21, 2016 at 9:39 am #

          How wonderful!! Thank you so much for explaining it all – I sure hope someone here runs with it!! I love the idea and think I may try something like that in the fall (when everyone has renewed energy- LOL)! What FUN…and so creative!!

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