by Julie Chow
2007 CHEA Support Network Winner – Best How-to

northamerica continents geography

Is there a geography club that I can sign-up my kids for? While it is very fun to learn in a group atmosphere, parents do not need to outsource this subject. Sometime we see geography as some foreboding subject to teach. Our family initially made feeble attempts with workbooks, but then we saw the light and realized that creativity breeds creativity with the right attitude. Moreover, this creativity led to my leading a Geo Club.

The key is to make geography real, applicable, and have it integrate with other subject and life matters. I love to travel so I like to approach geography as a world traveler. I tell my kids, “Someday you’ll see the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, just like the character Madeline. One day we’ll eat real Asian food in Asia, so let’s know where the countries are.” Looking at the travel section in the Sunday newspaper, we dream of where we would like to visit someday. So, let’s dream–it’s inexpensive and someday it may become a reality

Taking a global approach, I have the kids look at a world map (shown on a convenient placemat) to familiarize themselves with the seven continents (e.g., Africa looks like an elephant’s ear; the individual continents look like a jigsaw puzzle) and the five oceans. Now focusing on one continent at a time, we first divide it into regions and then countries. For example, North America: (1) Canada, U.S.A., Mexico; (2) the Caribbean Islands (Upper and Lower Antilles); and (3) Central America. Acronyms help. For Central America, I thought of: “Believe (Belize) God (Guatemala) Has (Honduras) The Savior (El Salvador). Now (Nicaragua) Confess Repent (Costa Rica) and Pray (Panama).

Then we proceed to (1) South America; (2) Europe -British Isles, Scandinavia “Incredible [Iceland]! No [Norway] smelly [Sweden] dead [Denmark] fish [Finland], Western Europe, Eastern Europe (former U.S.S.R); (3) Africa -Northern, Western, Eastern, Central, Southern; (4) Asia -Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, Indochina Peninsula, Southeast Asia, Far East; (5) Oceania -Australia, Micronesia, Melanesia, Polynesia; and finally (6) Antarctica.

To reinforce the country names, we play continent-specific bingo with international snacks for markers. Think of some history or trivia questions about the country and the kids will learn even more. With a world map jigsaw puzzle, we focus putting together just one continent repeatedly. Another fun activity is to have the kids play “tourist.” Letting them use a good atlas, give them 15 familiar and unfamiliar places to visit and have them map out the most efficient route.

To learn the physical features of a continents, have the kids highlight in color the major deserts (yellow); mountains and ranges (green); lakes (blue); rivers (blue-green); names of oceans, seas, gulfs (blue), etc.

For learning basic geography terms, kids can draw on a large orange the equator; the seven continents; North and South Poles, Arctic and Antarctic circles, Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn to discuss lines of latitude and temperature zones; Prime Meridian and International Dateline to discuss lines of longitude and degrees and minutes. Afterwards, the kids can attempt to peel the orange in one whole piece (not easily done) and then discuss the various projection world maps. Finally, the kids can enjoy eating the orange, identifying where it was grown.

When a place or landmark comes to mind, take the extra time to grab a map and have the kids find out where it is. For younger kids, just have them narrow it down to the continent and then tell them which direction to go (north, south, east, or west; “you’re getting colder/ hotter”). For older kids, have them find the specific place and learn also the country’s capital. Kids can also look up to zoom in on actual photos of places around the world taken from satellite.

Kids often like collecting “points” to earn prizes so start various lists. Points can be accumulated by identifying the countries of foreign stamps and coins; products made abroad (try a scavenger hunt at home, Cost Plus, Pier One Imports, Trader’s Joe, and look for “Made In ___”); eating and/or preparing an ethnic food; talking with a foreigner; praying for a country or people group; circling the name of places in the newspaper; and writing a geography-related report. Ask the kids for category suggestions.

Finally, have fun with your own Geo Club at home: What disaster could happen if you dropped the Thanksgiving turkey? The downfall of Turkey, the breakup of China, and the overthrow of Greece!

Copyright 2007. Reprinted from the CHEA Support Network News by permission of author.