I remember sitting in school as an elementary school kid and coloring maps until my hand hurt. I don’t know if the requirement to color the map was an attempt to make learning geography more enjoyable, but if it was, it didn’t work. At all. In fact, it just made it more tedious and painful. I also remember trying to cram all the countries, lakes and rivers on a given continent into my mind so I could spew them out onto a geography test the next day. I was pretty good at that. I usually did well on my geography tests. But when I transferred the names of countries and landforms from my brain to the test, they stayed on the paper and not in my head. In other words, I aced my tests but I did not learn geography. The whole process felt tiresome and laborious. So, I hated geography.
Geography is important though, so fortunately there are better and easier ways to learn. The way we study geography in our homeschool makes learning it so easy that it doesn’t seem like it could possibly be effective, but it is! Most of my kids actually enjoy it, and they retain the information really really well. This method works for all ages, so you can use it for your elementary school students and up through middle school and high school. I have to give credit here to Sarah Mackenzie, author of Teaching From Rest (which I highly recommend reading, by the way). I originally got this idea from her, and created my own version for my children. For this method, all you need is :
- a dry-erase marker (use a washable one for the sake of your sanity)
- plastic page protectors
- a prong folder
- blank blackline maps
- a world atlas
Place the map that you would like your child to study in a plastic page protector in the prong folder. When my children are first beginning to learn geography, I like to start with a map of the world so they can learn the continents and major oceans before moving on to countries, states, cities, and smaller bodies of water. After they know the continents and oceans, we study areas of the world that we are learning about in history, so the kids can visualize the locations of the events that they are studying.
A great resource for blackline maps that I use a lot is the website George the Geographer: http://www.georgethegeographer.co.uk/Base_maps/Base_maps.html
You can also just do an internet search for “backline map of _______” and should be able to find what you need that way.
Once you have your child’s map book assembled, give him or her an atlas. I like this children’s atlas for elementary aged children – National Geographic Kids Beginner’s World Atlas. Older children will need a more detailed atlas. Ask your child to use the dry-erase marker and copy 2-3 names of places (countries, states, cities, etc.) and 1-2 bodies of water down on their map, then erase. The next day, have the child write everything on the map that he or she remembers. If your child doesn’t remember anything from the previous day’s map, that’s ok! Once your child has copied down the things she remembers, have her add another 2-3 places from the atlas and another 1-2 bodies of water. You can alter the numbers as needed. For example, if your child is struggling to remember, just have him add 1 new item to the map each day. If he is feeling really motivated, let him add as many new locations as he wants.
Keep doing this every day until he has mastered that particular map. That’s it! It’s so easy, so quick, and best of all, it encourages self-directed learning. Your child gets to study the map in the way that interests him and he is allowed to learn at his own pace. Give it a try! Let me know what you think!