Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Geography has been a regular subject of study for N. this year. He is very interested in maps and the lay of the land in general (sometimes I try to soothe him to sleep by reciting the streets and turns of the route I drive to work, and he likes to assemble a mental map of places we visit), so we try to make to most of the geography learning occasions that seem to be everywhere. We don't want N. to be one of the many Americans who are notoriously ignorant about basic geography. While following N.'s interests, we make a conscious effort to cultivate his geographical knowledge.

This big map hangs in our breakfast nook for easy reference. When N. first started investigating the map, he was confused by the colors. He thought there was some connection between all the countries that are green on our map, for example, and when he saw other maps that randomly used other colors to differentiate countries, he thought those maps were wrong. I thought this was really interesting. He has now learned to look past the colors (a hard thing for a kid to do!) to focus on the shapes and locations of the countries.

Another abstract concept that had been hard for him to grasp is the nesting relationship of city, county, state, country. He seems to have this down pretty consistently now, although the fact that New Mexico is a state but Mexico is a country and New York is a state but York is a city caused some confusion and then turned into a favorite joke.

How is it that geography comes up in our conversations all the time? N.'s passion for old buildings naturally leads to this as we talk about the cities and countries in which his favorite buildings are located. The Random Encyclopedia Entry exercise which Tim and N. do almost daily is heavily weighted towards geography, due to the nature of encyclopedias. We subscribe to National Geographic in N.'s name (the real deal, not the kids' mag); we talk about it as his magazine and he looks forward to its appearance in our mailbox every month. Our family members have done a lot of travelling lately: my sister lived in Abu Dhabi for nine months a year and visited Dubai, Greece, and Amsterdam. My brother is marrying a woman whose parents are from India so there have been various trips to Mumbai by assorted family and future family.

With all these, we go back to the big map to reinforce and make connections. When I was in 5th grade, we spent a ridiculous amount of time on a project called "State Reports," which consisted of meticulously copying out information about all fifty states from the World Book Encyclopedia onto lined loose-leaf paper. We drew little state birds and flags, copied out the capitol cities and major manufacturing products. It was the ultimate busy-work; entirely unengaging, it took forever and I at least retained almost nothing from it. In contrast, I hope that since it is contextualized and interest-driven, N.'s exploration of geography has a more lasting impact.


Mom and Kiddo said...

Kiddo is also intensely interested in maps and geography. He really likes to learn about which animals live in which countries, too.

Fanny Harville said...

M&K -- I've definitely noticed the map theme on your blog. It's one of the many things our boys seem to have in common!

Emily said...

First of all, I lived in Abu Dhabi for nearly 12 months; I left three days shy of one year! (-: Second, I totally LOVED the State Reports! I didn't retain much, either, but I really liked doing them, especially the drawing part. I do think there are better ways to learn geography, though, since I admit to being one of *those* Americans who has lots of trouble with all geography.

Fanny Harville said...

WHAT?? You loved the State Reports?!? I had no idea! And frankly, I can't believe you did! What I liked about them was we got to spend a lot of time in the school library instead of in the classroom. And sorry about my bad math on your total time in Abu Dhabi. :)