Marvelous Monday – Geography

     We study a lot of geography here, especially in the pre high school days.  As with most of our subjects, we use a living books approach and that has made all the difference.  No rote memorization of states and capitals here.  We learn about various countries and their peoples and enjoy the process! 

     We started simply enough by choosing a country to coincide with what we were reading in history.  Soon we were choosing a different country or a region of the United States to study every quarter.  We have covered a lot of ground!

     You should of course, have at least one good Atlas.  Over time you’ll likely want to accumulate a nice selection of different atlases for different needs and ages.  Though I love older books, you’ll want to be sure that your world atlases are up to date.  I especially like the colorful and informative
Atlas of the World (Parragon Publishing), and there is nothing like the good, academically strong and inexpensive Rand McNally Schoolhouse Intermediate World Atlas.    For older students, the Rand McNally Answer Atlas: The Geography Resource for Students is an excellent choice.  My children have also loved National Geographic’s Our Fifty States and the State-by-State Atlas , by DK Publishing.  A nice desk top globe and/or poster size wall maps (available at most office supply stores) are also nice to have.     

     If you aren’t quite sure where to start with a world or U. S. geography study, or if your children are young, then try a fun picture book to get you started.  We’ve enjoyed books like Babar’s World Tour to give us a whirlwind tour of the world and introduce us to a few foreign phrases as well.  Another fun choice might be P is for Passport:  A World Alphabet.  

     For an introduction to all fifty states, you can’t beat books like The Scrambled States of America, by Laurie Keller or Peter Sis’ fabulous and beautiful The Train of States.  You might also start with M Is for Majestic: A National Parks Alphabet, and then read about the states where our National Parks are located.     

     Read one of these books through once with your children, then go back and choose a country or state that looks interesting.  Build your study from other great living books based on that choice.  Here are some suggestions to get you started.

     For United States geography, we love all of the books from Sleeping Bear Press’ state alphabet series.  Don’t let the A-B-C format lead you to believe that these books are just for the younger crowd.  Each colorful two page spread has brief, rhyming text for the various letters of the alphabet.  If your children are younger, you can limit your reading to that information.  However, your older children will benefit from the more in-depth information included in the side bars.  We own half of this series, and we’re looking forward to completing our set.

     Even if you don’t pursue a living books approach to geography, your family will love the fabulous series of books by M. Sasek.  First published in the 1960’s, these fabulous, whimsically illustrated books are being republished in their original form.  However, since things in many of these cities and countries have changed over the decades, the publisher is noting all out of date information with an asterisk in the original text.  The current information is then printed on the book’s final page, noting the pages where the asterisks appear.  Brilliant!  These are fabulous read alouds for younger children, and fun independent reading for older kids, too.  Not all of the original titles in the “This Is” series have been republished, so look for the older out-of-print titles as well.  

     Your younger children will enjoy little books that are just their size, with large full-color photographs and large sized font.  There are a host of books available in Scholastic’s
Rookie Read-About Geography series.  Continents, countries, habitats and even the fifty states are featured in this series.  Inexpensive, but packed full of information, these little books are wonderful to fill a basket with.  Then step aside and watch as even your older children will enjoy a quick, informative read!

     While we’re thinking about books meant for the younger set that the older children will enjoy, too, I’d like to mention the fun Count Your Way Through and Colors of the World series.  The first series offers the numbers one through ten, written in the native language of the country featured (with a pronunciation guide), along with a fact about the country using that number.  For example, in the China book, the page for the number 9 (which is also written in Chinese character) states, “A traditional festival that honors the Nine Stars of the Plow is held in China every year.  According to legend, these stars descend once a year to be honored.  In return, the Nine Stars help farmers have a good planting season.”  The colors series offers the same sort of format but features many common colors.  The format may be simple, but the books are packed with wonderful information about the featured countries and their people.
     If you’re looking for something a bit more on the traditional side, there are a couple of series I can recommend.  For your younger students, the True Books:  Countries series is a good resource.  Published by Scholastic, they are a nice blend of text and photography.  For United States geography, your older students might enjoy the Hello U. S. A. series.  The series includes one book for each of the fifty states.  At almost 80 pages each, these are meant for a more in-depth look at each of the fifty states, but they are well written and filled with full-color photography and illustrations. 

     One more world series that I have to mention is the Look What Came From series.  Just as the name implies, these books feature all sorts of inventions, foods and products that come from another country that we enjoy in the United States.  This series is a personal favorite and my boys love it!

     Also worth mentioning is Garrard’s Rivers of the World series.  Published in the 1960’s, these are long out of print, but widely available used.  Most copies sell for under $2.00.  Junior high and up.

     Don’t be afraid to branch out a bit and use some fiction in your geography study as well.  Some of our favorite read alouds are those that I’ve purchased to accompany our study of a particular country.  We use these in much the same way that we use historical fiction to supplement our history study.  Madeline is perfect for a study of France, but did you know this same little girl visited London, Rome, and even America?   Spunky little Eloise visits Paris and Moscow.   
     Those are some of the more well known titles, but I’ve found dozens of titles to compliment our geography studies simply by searching at Amazon using the country’s name and limiting the search to children’s books.  It might seem a bit daunting, but your eye will quickly skim the list and pick out titles that appeal to you.  If your budget, like mine, is limited, do your window shopping on Amazon, but take your list to the public library. 

     A few years ago I started adding traditional music from the countries we were studying to our days.  From Russian Balalaika favorites to Italian mandolins, these CDs, which we simply listen to now and again during the school day, really help round out and give some flavor to our geography units.  Some of these CD’s have become family favorites!  The entire family has a love of Celtic music, now.  I have a sweet CD of traditional Chinese music that is very peaceful , enjoyable listening, and another of Scottish bagpipes and drums that is great for getting us moving.  Again, simply run a search for music at Amazon and use the country name and “traditional” or “folk” in the search box.  One caution, be wary of CDs that contain vocals.  Since these are in a foreign language, you might unwittingly be listening to something a bit unsavory!  We prefer instrumental selections for that very reason. 

     Of course, you’ll want to include some map work in your study.  All you’ll really need is a  blank map outline book and some colored pencils.  I always make multiple copies of the world map so that we can color each country we are studying onto an otherwise blank world map.  We then use a map of the country, or state, and label various cities, geographical features or places of interest we encounter in our reading.  Add a few cool stickers, and slip the completed maps into a notebook for safe keeping as a record of your studies.  If you’d like, the children can right reports to accompany the maps in their notebooks.

     We have found Geography from A to Z: A Picture Glossary to be an indispensable resource for our geography study.  This little book is packed full of geography terminology dunes to fjords, meander to promontory, reef to tundra.  Wonderfully colorful illustrations help younger learners understand the written definitions.  Similarly, Maps and Globes has been useful in learning to read maps (and globes), and contains a brief history of how maps, charts and globes came to be. 

     Hands on learners will benefit greatly from working with map puzzles, but all of my children have enjoyed the challenge and fun.  These puzzles are our favorites for geography:
USA and Canada          
Latin America
The Global Puzzle


     Who said Geography was dull and boring?  Certainly not us!

     Head on over to Kendra’s site to read her Marvelous Monday – Geography post.

God bless you as you look well to the ways of your household!
Proverbs 31:27

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10 comments to Marvelous Monday – Geography

  • Thank you for this wonderful and informative post!  I have some great ideas now.

  • As always,this was so helpful Cheryl! And Zeke is cracking up over the pictures of the boys. 🙂

  • Great post.  My comment is that I would recommend avoiding world maps that employ the Mercator projection.  This was unfortunately the projection used when I went to school.  It was created for mapping the trade routes between the old and new worlds and was never intended for use as a world map projection.  While every projection has distortion, Mercator is egregious is that it makes Greenland look larger than China, as an example. Compare to your globe!  Most map publishers have replaced Mercator with one of several projections that offer less distortion of relative land mass sizes and shapes.

  • Cheryl, I have thoroughly enjoyed your homeschooling posts!!  We have the same style of learning here in our school, so the suggestions are very helpful!  Thank you for doing these!

  • @Eric Riback – I appreciate your comment, but with all due respect, I disagree.  I was introduced to your point of view on not using Mercator with my daughters many years ago.  While your remarks are, of course, quite correct, I found it best to familiarize my children with the projections that they would be most likely to encounter in life.  On the other hand, I have always taken care to point out the distortions that happen by flattening out the earth.  This is easily done by drawing shapes onto an orange, for example, and then carefully peeling the orange and lying it out flat, thus distorting the shapes.  It is unfortunate that most maps are made this way, but I want to equip my children to work with the maps they will be most likely to encounter. 

  • We love Geopuzzles in our home, too!

    Thank you for all the recommendations!  Your posts are so informative!


  • Hey Stacy!  Hey Cheryl!  Did you know you two get to meet each other when Stacy and Amy come to visit in August?

  • @wifetomark – @PreschoolersandPeace –   In August?  Seriously?  When? Where?  Yeehaw!

  • Thank you for all this advice and information!  I am excited about trying out several of these resources this upcoming year.

    One thing we’ve found fun and easy is the Geography songs–we like States and Capitals the best.  I think it familiarizes kiddos with the word associations (when they hear Sacramento now, they think California!) and the music is upbeat and fun.  I pop it in when we’re cleaning, and keep it informal for now, but it is sinking in all on its own with my little ones.

    Thanks again for your blog.

  • @Kathleen – Yes!!  I meant to mention the Geography Songs!  Years ago, when my girls were young, I had a couple of day care kids to help make ends meet.  We were learning the continents and oceans songs at the time.  The girls would sing the song and point to the continents and oceans on the world wall map as thy did so.  One of my daycare moms was thrilled when I told her two year old to show Mommy Africa on the map and he pointed right to it and said, “Aprica”.   Much learning can be “caught” through fun learning.  Thanks for reminding me about Geography Songs!