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Friday, November 15th, 2013
Geography Awareness Week is a celebration in honor of the 125th anniversary of National Geographic and an opportunity to promote geo-literacy in kids so they get to know what’s around them and can build on their knowledge to have a better understanding of world geography. The world is a big place and can be quite overwhelming for small children but there are many ways we can incorporate learning about the world around us to teach our kids about the places where we live and the larger world.
Since Geography Awareness Week is November 17-23, it’s a great time to make an effort to incorporate more geography into your family’s learning because there’s so much that can be done easily. If you don’t know where to start, here are eight things to do with your kids to make them more geographically aware.
Start small. For young kids, the world is a big place and it’s best to start with things they know. Start by getting to know your immediate neighborhood and recognizable landmarks such as your street, best friend’s house, their school, and other places you frequent like the grocery store, favorite restaurants, and neighborhood shops. This helps build knowledge about a place they’re familiar with and when they’re ready, expand their horizons and incorporate adjacent towns and then to your state as they get older. Since visuals are always helpful, work together to draw a simple map of your neighborhood or use this free printable neighborhood map from Crayola.
Take a road trip. It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling five minutes or five hours but before you hop in the car, talk about where you’re going and how you’ll get there. Show your children where you live on a map and where your destination is in relation to where you live. This helps develop spatial sense and can serve as a way of introducing direction like north, south, east, and west. Keep an atlas in the car such as National Geographic Kids United States Atlas or Ultimate Road Trip Atlas. Both are laid out nicely that makes it fun to browse and having them readily available in the back seat pocket of the car means they’re more likely to pick them up and learn at their own pace.
Explore a new place with a virtual field trip. While it’s great to be able to travel, a virtual field trip can be a wonderful way to learn about places in our country and around the world. Spark your child’s interest by sitting down and browsing through the vivid photos from the Windows Travel App that will spark conversation and drive a desire to learn more. In addition to gorgeous photos, the Travel App also features an overview of the location pictured, maps, weather conditions, and tons of great information to facilitate learning about a new place.
Learn while you’re in the car. Listen carefully to your vehicle’s navigation system. So many times we’re focused on getting to where we need to go that we forget how much learning can be done by listing to the voice. Younger kids can pick up on street names and direction while older kids get a sense how your travels connect to the area beyond where you live. If you don’t have an in-car navigation system, printed maps from Google Maps work just fine and are a wonderful way to provide an overview of where you’re going and how to get there. I often prefer having a printed map than relying on my car’s navigation system because it provides me with an overview of the area where I’m headed.
Think about geography in terms of food. Have a favorite restaurant that serves a different kind of food? Visit that restaurant and bring an atlas to look at while you wait. Talk about where the country is in the world, what the capital is, geographic features like mountains and rivers, and maybe even ask your server about how the geography of the country impacts the flavor of your favorite dishes. You might be surprised to find out how the climate impacts what is grown in the country!
Involve your kids in vacation planning to build background knowledge. Once you’ve chosen a destination for a family vacation, involve your kids in the trip by building background knowledge. Talk about the place you’re going and where it’s located, how you’ll get there, and take a trip to the library or do some online research to brainstorm things to do once you’re there. Pre-screen some YouTube videos for them to watch to get a better sense of where you’re going and what to expect when you get there.
Have resources available at home. Having a United States and world atlas are must-haves for any home library. It’s also great to have a globe on hand because it provides a better understanding of world geography, especially for young kids who need a more concrete way to know where places in the world are in relation to each other. I find that a globe is most helpful in teaching about relationships between continents and oceans because it provides the big picture understanding while providing a tactile way to learn about topography. We have the Illuminated Orion Relief Globe with a Non-Tip Base from HearthSong.
Learn on the go. One of my family’s favorite apps to browse is Barefoot World Atlas. This gorgeous interactive app is chock full of so much information that it’s hard to ever get tired of the content on your iPhone that’s fun for adults and kids alike.
Small boy looking at a Globe in his bedroom via Shutterstock
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Friday, February 1st, 2013
Learning about other countries is an important lesson in geography and cultures for kids of all ages but how do you begin teaching them about a place that, at first glance, seems so different from where you live? Here are 3 ways to make your children global citizens.
Talk about commonalities. Young ages will be able to best identify with day to day life such as food, family, and daily life. Little Passports provides a great introduction for preschoolers through a monthly subscription service that follows Sam and Sophia through world travels with materials that arrive in the mail. Each month Little Passports sends information about a different country through a postcard written by Sam and Sophia, sticker to add to your child’s play passport, and a souvenir from the country. It’s a great way to get the conversation going about countries around the globe in an age appropriate way.
Look at photos. Pictures are a great way to get kids talking about places around the world because the visual nature makes them want to talk about what they’re seeing. Browse images from sources like Getty Images, Flickr, or the Travel App for Windows 8. Ever since getting my Microsoft Surface Tablet, we’ve enjoyed using the Travel App to browse over 3,000 destinations around the globe and read articles on each city, area attractions, view maps to get a sense of geography, learn about the climate through weather reports, while also accessing stunning images. The Travel App can be used to learn more about a city even if you aren’t planning a trip.
Plan a trip. Even if your budget doesn’t allow for a trip that involves a flight and a passport, virtual trips can be just as educational and rewarding. Do some research and assemble links that relate to a country’s location, geography, history, traditions, food, and popular pasttimes. For an example, here’s a post I wrote about taking a virtual field trip to Scotland on Parents.com inspired by the movie, Brave.
While it may be tempting to sit down with your kids and explore the world together, it’s always a good idea to preview information and images to ensure that they’re age appropriate before showing them to your children.
Ready for travel around the world via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, January 30th, 2013
Regardless of which team you may be rooting for on Super Bowl Sunday, the Super Bowl can be a prime time to incorporate lots of learning. Here are three things you can do with your children on Sunday as you watch the game to engage them and increase their knowledge about football and a variety of other curriculum areas.
Young kids will be more engaged in the action if they know what to look for. Basic football terminology will help them understand the game but where do you start? About.com’s Football 101 breaks down what you need to know about topics such as the field and what to look for at the beginning of the game.
Super Bowl XLVII brings together the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers. Take a look at a map to see where each of the teams are from and talk about teams in the surrounding states and what their teams are called using SportMapWorld.com’s interactive map of the NFL teams.
Since there’s a lot of math in sports, football presents a prime opportunity to incorporate many mini lessons. To understand scoring, kids need to know the point value for field goals and touchdowns. You can also incorporate lessons on Roman numerals, fractions thanks to the game being divided into quarters, time when watching the clock, and measurements in terms of downs and distance. Laura Overdeck, mother of three and founder of the Bedtime Math national online community also suggests getting kids involved by having your kids set up a Super Bowl snack bar at home. Assign each kind of food a price, use play money to purchase snacks, and have kids count out the correct change for each family member’s snack ‘purchase.’
American football with the fifty yard line beyond via Shutterstock
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Sunday, December 23rd, 2012
As Christmas draws near, the anticipation of Santa’s arrival becomes almost unbearable but the NORAD Santa Tracker is a fabulous website that allows kids to see where in the world Santa is while teaching lessons about geography at the same time. Run by The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), this real organization is a joint venture between the United States and Canada whose mission is to provide “aerospace warning includes the monitoring of man-made objects in space.” Each year the Colorado Springs based company uses radar, satellites, Santa Cams, and fighter jets to track Santa’s travels around the globe as he starts at the International Date Line in the Pacific Ocean and travels west.
Children can visit the site for the Santa Countdown Calendar to see the days until Santa’s sleigh is loaded up and ready for take off. The interactive site allows kids to click on parts of Santa’s village to see which workshops are the busiest on any give day up until Christmas Eve.
NORAD begins tracking Santa on what is Christmas Eve in the United States. By the time kids on the East Coast have woken up, Santa has already made stops in Asia. A world map shows exactly where Santa has stopped. NORAD displays the city and country of Santa’s last stop along with the arrival time to his next destination. A fast paced ticker on the site shows how many gifts have been delivered and is mind boggling for kids who still believe.
The Videos tab on the website feature footage of Santa as he traverses the globe featuring Santa and his reindeer flying over landmarks all over the globe. The videos can also be seen on NORAD’s YouTube page.
For curious kids, NORAD features a Frequently Asked Question page where parents can share how Santa is able to travel the world in a mere 24 hours, the travel route, technical specifications of Santa’s sleigh, if NORAD fighter planes ever intercept Santa, whether Santa has ever crashed, and even numbers and an email address in case they want to communication with NORAD about unanswered Santa questions.
In the years that our family has been tracking Santa, the NORAD site has become more sophisticated with additional content added each year that makes it a holiday tradition even for the non-believers.
Christmas background with Santa’s sleigh via Shutterstock
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Saturday, June 23rd, 2012
Take a virtual field trip of Scotland inspired by Brave
This weekend’s release of the Disney-Pixar movie Brave exposes viewers to the rugged and mysterious Highlands of Scotland. If your kids are already fans of the movie, here’s how you can teach them more about the country that inspired the beautiful scenery in the movie with a virtual field trip.
Teach children where in the world Scotland is located. Young kids will appreciate a three dimensional visual representation of Scotland on a globe while older children with an understanding of geography can easily understand a flap map. Print out a map or use this interactive map of Scotland and mouse over the links that highlight various parts of the country.
Learn the history of Scotland’s many castles and take a virtual field trip of Eilean Donan.
Teach movie goers the meaning of the words and phrases used in the movie such as the following that were uttered by the characters:
- Bunch of galoots- Many fools. A galoot is a clumsy, oafish person.
- Dreadful collywobbles- Unwanted stomachache or a bad case of the nerves. Collywobbles means an upset stomach; intestinal disturbances or a feeling of apprehension.
- Jiggery Pokery- Nonsense.
- Jings crivens help ma boab- Oh my! An exclamation of bewilderment or exasperation
- Lass- Girl
- Lad- Boy
- Mitchy me- An exclamation of surprise, shock or being overwhelmed.
- Numpty- Useless individual
Try your hand at archery like Merida through the Ultimate Archery Challenge, a fun interactive game on Disney.com.
If you’re wondering whether Brave is right for your children, visit Common Sense Media’s review and read how Amy Mascott of TeachMama.com prepared her kids to see the movie.
Ruins of Dunnotar castle, Scotland via Shutterstock. BRAVE Scottish Glossary courtesy of Disney-Pixar.
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