If you really want your kids to know and understand world geography, you'll save enough money to buy a Volkswagen bus and travel the habited continents, filling countless notebooks with observations and facts. Unfortunately, most of us aren't that financially independent (or flat-out hardcore), but that doesn't mean our kids can't have a good geography education.
Probably the best place to start is with an organized curriculum, but even the most comprehensive program will leave holes, and none of them are able to know and cater to your childrens' specific interests. Even a specific course on Africa won't necessarily spend as much time as you or your kids would like on African river tribes, the Rwenzori Mountains, or the number of non-indigenous peoples in cities like Tripoli and Johannesburg.
Which is exactly why geography resources exist. Some of them are probably sufficient to teach geography by themselves, but most of them are simply tools to fill out and enhance a more broad study. The best ones are fairly specific in content, though a lot of the reference books we carry cover large regions (including continents) and offer information you aren't likely to encounter elsewhere.
You don't have to actually go to Africa or Europe to make geography a hands-on study, either. One of the best ways to get kids to remember where things are is to have them fill in names and landmarks on a blank or rewriteable map. Or you can have them play games, complete crafts, cook an ethnic meal, make clothes or hats specific to a region, etc.
It's also a good idea to have them read literature that takes place in the area being studied. Even in works of fiction, regional stories can give a sense of place that sticks with readers more than disconnected facts. Not that the facts aren't important—but reinforcing them through other means will cement them more than rote memorization is likely to do.
Then there are the books to keep around the house, the go-to-when-you're-bored atlases, map books, and travel guides great for browsing. Almost every child is visual to some degree, and when they can actually see what a country looks like, with its terrain, lakes, cities and borders, they're far more likely to want to know more about it. Geography study doesn't always have to be formal; supplementing after school hours is often when a lot of the real learning goes on.
Just like you can't teach your kids everything there is to know, we at Exodus Books can't offer all the resources in existence. Groups like the National Geographic Society and the Smithsonian Institute offer bajillions of free online resources, as well as books, TV documentaries, magazines, activity guides, and more. Even more fun (and just as educational) are the Carmen Sandiego computer games and other products that turn geography drill into a hunt for an international supervillain.
To the right you'll find a list of online sites offering information, quizzes, and fun ways to learn geography. We also suggest making use of your local library as much as possible; atlases can be expensive and nation fact books quickly go out of date, but libraries are usually well-stocked and current (though a lot of books of this type are research materials and can't be checked out; be sure to bring a notebook!). Look for the audio-visual section, too; there are usually plenty of documentaries and supplements available.
Understanding geography is one of the first steps toward understanding our world. It affects government and politics, religion, food supply, even the entertainments a culture enjoys. It's probably one of the easiest subjects to get kids interested in, too, but oddly it's often neglected. With all the resources available, however, it can quickly become a focus of study during schooltime and during free time. And you don't even need to buy a junky bus or passports.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.
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