Self Directed Study
I want my children to know a little more than the name, location, and capitals of the world. What language do they speak? What is the physical geography and climate? What else is remarkable about the country? I remember when I was in sixth grade we studied world explorers, world geography, and I loved it! I retained what I did because I had pen pals all over the globe and because I loved to go to the library and research about the different countries and make books about those countries and salt dough topographical maps. Building on this love and idea that children remember what the dig out for themselves, I created the Book of Nations.
When my oldest daughter was born, my father let my oldest son, then four, pick any toy in the toy store. My son picked a large wooden map puzzle. When we got home grandpa saw it was recommended for children 7-12 year olds and suggested to me in front of my son, to put it away for a few years. Never under estimate children! Well, my son waited until we were not watching. He took the puzzle into his room, figured it out, and taught his two year old brother how to put it together. About an hour later they came from their room and dumped the puzzle on the floor in front of my dad and I. My dad said, "See, I told you to put it up, he does not understand what a puzzle is." Then my son looked to his just barely two year old brother and excitedly said, "Show grandpa!" The two year old started to assemble the puzzle. When he got to Minnesota he stopped and puzzled. Without thinking I said, "it goes next to Wisconsin." Really? How would a two year old know where Wisconsin is? I had never told either of my sons the names of the states. He promptly said, "Oh yeah.," and then placed the piece where it belonged. Needless to say, grandpa retracted his suggestion.
We also have a puzzle of the Flags of the World, as my third son loved geography so much he had learned and drew all the world flags when he was 10. He also loved puzzles, so we later found this puzzle for him. They were having the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah and our city put out international flags for ambiance; My son began to laugh, "why is there a Philippine flag, do they have a bobsled team too?"
As my boys grew we bought National Geographic's Global Pursuit game and my kids were so surprised that mom and dad knew so much about geography. Dad won the first round because he knew the capital of Iceland.
My sister-in-law, Beatrice (Bea), would pick a nation to spotlight to her family every fifth Monday evening. Bea cooked the food of that country for dinner, played the music, decorated, showed maps, talked about their history. I went to a nine course Chinese dinner at her house when my oldest kids were little and my kids ate everything!
Nancy Young, is the wife of artist, Al Young. She created virtual vacations! She would print up the itinerary, get a "boring" travel video from the library, music, and make believe they were at a hotel in that country, complete with gift baskets with tiny toiletries placed on their bedrooms, and meals with foods one would expect to eat there.
I love how Gene Stratton Porter said that geography should be taught:
"Schoolhouses are made wrong. If they must be, they should be built in a woods pasture beside a stream, where you could wade, swim, and be comfortable in summer, and slide and skate in winter. The windows should be cut to the floor, and stand wide open, so the birds and butterflies could pass through. You ought to learn your geography by climbing a hill, walking through a valley, wading creeks, making islands in them, and promontories, capes, and peninsulas along the bank. You should do your arithmetic sitting under trees adding hickorynuts, subtracting walnuts, multiplying butternuts, and dividing hazelnuts. You could use apples for fractions, and tin cups for liquid measure. You could spell everything in sight and this would teach you the words that are really used in the world."
We have taken a lot of cross country trips visiting church history sites, family history, and US history sites, and seeing a lot of real geography! In 1996 we took six children ages 17 months to 17 years, on a 12,000 mile cross country camping trip in our big GMC van. We drove across the Rockies from Utah to Colorado, then across the great plains states to Missouri. We drove up the shore of the Mississippi to Nauvoo, Illinois, across to Carthage, Illinois and south to the Gulf Coast and through Florida all the way to Key West. We zig-zaged up to Prince Edward, Canada and then home. Oh yes, there was a lot of seeing and learning along the way. The trip was dubbed Mom and Dad's Great Adventure. Their mantra was "Been there, saw that, took a picture and left." In 2005, we traveled north and did a National Parks trip- Yellow Stone, Glacier, Jasper-Banff, Washington and Oregon Coasts, Red Woods, down the Mendocino Coast, Sequoias, and Yosemite. In the summer of 2006, we drove up the Pacific Coast Highway from San Diego to the bay area. That fall we went east again for my nephew's wedding. We drove from here to Nauvoo, went to the wedding in Chicago, and then on to Kirtland, Ohio. In 2006 autumn, we drove to Mesa Verde, Colorado, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and down to Los Cruces, New Mexico, then back home through the Grand Canyon. Oh, there have been other trips too, but these were the big ones. My children got to experience sea shores, the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Gulf Coast, the Mississippi river, Missouri River, the Columbia River, the Bay of Fundy, Great Lakes, and many smaller water ways. They also experienced tundra and plains, forests, and deserts, Appalachia, Rockies and more. Living Geography at its best!
Why settle for geography from a book? All these just make geography come alive...