Guest Blogger Kerry Jones: Geography Envy

Kerry Jones is a homeschooling mom of two teenagers and a freelance writer who writes chiefly about educational and assistive technology–particularly for homeschoolers. You can read more of her articles and check out her blog by visiting her website.
SmartGlobe.jpg

I stink at geography.  That’s not an exaggeration.  I never laugh at those derisive news stories about children (or adults) who are unable to tell you the capital of Nebraska or figure out whether Slovakia is in Europe or Asia.  For some reason, the geography I was taught in school simply never “took.”  Most likely because I never took a personal interest in the subject, but also because it was always taught with so little creativity.  My geography education basically consisted of filling in blank map outlines and memorizing mnemonic devices that would help me remember that People Attack Irritating Stinging Ants (those are the five oceans, by the way: Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Southern, Arctic). 

When I began homeschooling, I was determined that my children would never come near a blank map outline or memorize a single acronym.


I decided that the best way to teach geography was by mixing and
matching all sorts of devices, activities, and resources that would
introduce them to the world in a fun and engaging way.  We started
early on by using music.  When my oldest was in first grade, I
purchased Songs for Teaching’s “Geography Songs,” and we sang our way
through every country of the world and all fifty states. 

When
that got old (and our voices got hoarse) we moved over to learning
geography through literature.  The Beautiful Feet Books company offers
a wonderful “Geography through Literature”
pack that includes maps, a teacher’s guide, and four lovely children’s
books by Holling Clancy Holling.  We spent an entire school year of
their late elementary education reading the books together and marking
the journeys of the characters on the provided maps. 
As my sons
edged toward their double digit years, electronics were their passion. 
If it didn’t beep, flash, or buzz, then it wasn’t worth it’s salt.  So
I didn’t try to beat ‘em–I joined ‘em by purchasing the Oregon
Scientific SmartGlobe
This learning tool had a pen/wand that let you just touch a country or
state on the globe and hear all kinds of interesting information about
the climate, language, history, and culture of that particular spot. 
And as if that weren’t enough, you could attach the pen to your
computer via the provided cable and download daily updated news
stories.  Then, when you touched the next country, you could hear
up-to-the-minute reports of the major events happening in that country
that day.  Very, very cool!

But alas, even portable electronics
gave way in teenagedom to the all-powerful internet.  The Google
universe now reigns supreme, and my young men are not above reminding
me that if Google doesn’t know it, it probably didn’t exist.  So again,
I dare not fight a losing battle, and I’ve done my research to find the
best geography tools and sites on the web.  Thankfully, there are a
host of them to choose from.

Because my younger son uses the Time4Learning
online homeschool curriculum, he is already getting some wonderful
daily multimedia lessons on world and national geography.  But we also
enjoy playing the geography matching games at LearningGamesforKids, and using Spelling City to practice those difficult state and country spellings.  One of our other favorite online geography tools is the New York Times Learning Network
When reading the days chosen top story, students have the option to
have all of the geographical places mentioned in the article
highlighted.  Clicking on any of these highlighted names takes the
student to a page about that place including maps, flag, and pertinent
facts. 

Other favorite online geography sites include: GeoBeats (a place to see the world from the comfort of your living room), the Traveler IQ Challenge, Where’s George
(fun game to see where your money has been and where it is going), and
of course Google Earth with its endless overlays and possibilities. 

Maybe all this focus on geography is a bit of overcompensation on my
part, but my children have been immersed in the locations, people, and
cultures of the world from every possible angle and with every
available learning style.  They may never remember that People Attack
Irritating Stinging Ants, but they have sung, read, played and explored
this planet with a curiosity and enjoyment that I wish I had
experienced at their age. I guess you could say I have geography envy.

Kerry Jones

Image courtesy Oregon Scientific.

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