Teaching World Geography to Younger Students

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by Jane-Emily

When my oldest daughter was in kindergarten, I wanted to do something fun that would get her ready for world history in first grade.  I had already planned to use Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World series in 1st-4th grade, and I love travel and learning about other countries!  So I planned out a year of world geography for a five-year-old.  I did not use any packaged curriculum; the ones I had seen had a strong emphasis on Protestant missionary work and that was not my focus.

I bought two books:

I also put a world map and a map of the USA in the hall.  Everything else I checked out from the library.  It hardly cost a thing.

I planned for thirty weeks by choosing thirty countries or regions of the world with the atlas as a help: Scandinavia, West Africa, Japan/Korea, and so on.  I also made a little passport, just a little booklet with heavy blue paper for a cover and a bunch of plain white pages, sewn together with heavy thread.  I put a fancy gold seal on the front (it said “Home Made Candies” but who cares?). On the inside cover I put a picture of my daughter and her basic information, just like in a real passport.  I ruled lines on the pages, dividing each one in half, and labeled the sections with country names.

With my master list in hand, I visited the library each week and checked out a few books about the upcoming topic.  This is very easy to do: Just go to the non-fiction section of the children’s room, look for the early 900s, and you will see shelves of books about other countries arranged geographically.  Many of these are part of “countries of the world”-type series for older children doing country reports, and can be handy for you to look through for recipes or other information. You’ll also find books to actually read to your young child, often “kids in other lands”-type books or maybe some neat history.  Those are fun.

The other books I looked for were folk and fairy tale collections for each region of the world.  Libraries usually collect lots of folk tales, and these are found in the 398 section of the non-fiction collection.  They are not arranged geographically, so you must search in the catalog for specific topics: Just type “folk tales Caribbean” or whatever you’re looking for, and something will probably come up.  You could also find books about world religions in the 290s; there are many good books for young children with the “I am a Hindu” sort of theme.  World holiday books are good resources too (early 390s).

Each week, we wodkchildrenuld start with the atlas and the Children Just Like Me book.  We would read about one or more children, find their homeland in the atlas and talk about what it would be like to live there–not for a very long time, we are talking about 10-15 minutes here.  Later in the week, we would read a story or a folktale (or three or four).  And later again, we would cook something yummy, play dress-up or a game, or otherwise try something fun and new.  I am still cooking the spinach and egg recipe we made for Greece!  We did this three days per week, and most of that time was spent on folktales, play, or cooking.

At the end of each week, we would fill out our passport to show that we had ‘visited’ the country.  I collected stamps when I was younger and I have my collection stashed away in my closet, so we would raid it for good postage stamps and stick them in.  You could also draw something, print pictures, or just find a cool rubber stamp to use.

This plan worked very well for my older daughter’s kindergarten year.  We had a lot of fun and she got plenty of ideas for imaginative play.  In particular, one girl who lived in the Amazon jungle attracted her, and for months she would play that she lived in the Amazon.  Even now, she remembers many of the activities we did.

When my younger daughter’s turn came, I actually did this plan for first grade while her older sister did modern history in our four-year cycle, so that they could start ancient history together the next year.  She insisted on a purple passport, and again we had a very good year learning about the world.

Jajane-emilyne-Emily homeschools two daughters in California.  She is a librarian who loves to quilt and embroider, and she’s a Bollywood addict.  Her favorite author is Diana Wynne Jones. She blogs about reading at Howling Frog Books.

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