Geography is one of the most useful subjects that students will learn.
They will use this information as adults when they watch the news, as
believers when they pray, and as citizens as they function in an
increasingly global community.
Like many homeschool subjects that appear daunting at first, geography
can be mastered with a strategy of learning a little each day. It also
lends itself to fun games and may even lead to participation in exciting
competitions, such as the National Geographic Bee.
When I first began homeschooling, I had very little knowledge of
geography. I considered it a perk of the job to be able to learn
alongside my children. We began each day with a short “group time,” and
I found that we could learn and review a good amount of material in
fifteen minutes a day. We used the Singin’ Smart series and later
discovered Audio Memory’s excellent Geography Songs. (I am proud to say
that I can sing the capitals of the United States to this day.) We
printed blank maps off our computer and labeled the states or countries
as we learned the song. Our map collection grew into a notebook, and we
reviewed one or two maps each day. As we sang slowly, we would point to
each place in turn.
Fun and Games
After we conquered the world, we decided it was time to memorize the
capitals of all the countries. We focused on one continent at a time and
used silly mnemonics as needed. (Most of these are too silly to print,
but here’s an example: the capital of Iraq is Baghdad. We had a funny
mental picture of a boy holding a sack and his sister asking, “A rock?”
The boy responds “I bagged Dad.”) We would review what we had learned
and then add one new capital each day. Once we had a large enough body
of knowledge, the fun began. We drilled in various ways such as going
around the circle and asking the capitals of countries given at random.
We even played home-made “Jeopardy” type games.
The National Geographic Bee
At about this time we learned about the National Geographic Bee. It
turned out to be a very appealing competition. It differs from a
spelling bee in that a contestant is not eliminated the first time he
responds incorrectly. Instead, everyone stays in for the first seven
rounds, and then the top ten contestants progress to the final round.
One of my sons missed almost every question the first few rounds, but
still had the satisfaction of answering several questions correctly.
One of our favorite rounds involves identifying the correct continent
from the given clues. If you don’t know the right answer, you can at
least guess one of the seven continents. Of course, it’s important to
memorize the continents before the bee! Another round of the local
competition is based on map reading, which is a common component of many
curricula. My students were quite motivated to acquire map terminology
with the geography bee in view.
After our first bee, our children were hooked. They developed a taste
for geography games, quiz cards, puzzles, and prep books. The Geography
Bee Complete Preparation Handbook by Matthew and Jennifer Rosenberg is
one of the best books we found. It contains 1,001 questions similar to
those featured at the National Geographic Bee and key material such as
geography and climate vocabulary that appear frequently on the bee. With
the basics our students were learning in homeschool, they could answer
many of the questions in games and books, and they acquired more
knowledge from the process. The games often led to pulling out the
globe, atlas, or encyclopedia.
The organizer recruits one person to administer the bee and two judges who check responses and take care of time-keeping
Getting the Connections
The National Geographic Bee includes facts about physical geography,
current events, culture, political geography, and history. It encourages
students to study the connections between physical features, culture,
and climate. Understanding how regions are influenced in these ways
helps students to remember information about specific countries. We
realized that the study of geography enhanced many areas of education,
and created ways for our students to integrate all that they were
learning. The more we learned, the more we saw connections in our
history class, literature assignments, and current events.
Sharpening Logic Skills
Another significant component of the National Geographic Bee is the
skill of using logic. Students are allowed to ask for the question to be
repeated, and this often helps them to recognize a clue that they missed
during the first reading.
Here is a sample question that allows for several different avenues for
using logic: “In the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, France sold the United
States all of the territory drained by which river-the Colorado or the
Mississippi?” If a student does not know about the Louisiana Purchase,
he may know enough geography to identify that the Mississippi River
flows through Louisiana.
Here’s another example: “Which state’s major crop is oranges: Wisconsin
or Florida?” Even if you didn’t know this specific fact about Florida,
you could guess, based on the regional climate in the United States.
Starting Your Own Geography Bee If your homeschool community does not
have a geography bee, consider starting one. Check out the website at
To create your own geography bee, you need only six students in grades
four through eight (who are not over the age of 15). The students must
live in the same state, because the competition is organized by state.
Registration is due in mid-October and costs $70. National Geographic
sends a packet with all the materials you will need.
The packet cannot be in the hands of a family member of a contestant at
any time, so it is important to recruit someone to receive the packet
and serve as administrator of the bee. The organizer will also need two
volunteers to serve as timekeepers/judges.
The winner of the bee is given a written test (also in the packet), and
the top one hundred scorers for the state are invited to the state
competition. The state champion then competes in the National Geographic
Bee. Homeschoolers have been excelling at every level of the bee, and
five of the last eight national champions have been homeschoolers.
My husband suggested that this article should be titled: “If You Want to
Study Geography, You Have to Start Somewhere.” Geography is one of those
areas of study that serve as a model for the rest of homeschool. Even
when you don’t know where you are going, you can start small and build
over time. In the process you will have a lot of fun and discover
fascinating connections that you will use the rest of your life.
|--------------------------Geography Resources-------------------------- |
Handbook The Geography Bee Complete Preparation Handbook by Matthew and
Online Games A fun online game that requires students to identify
countries or capitals on a blank map: purposegames.com/games
Online Quizzes Ten questions a day from the National Geographic Bee:
Map Puzzles of both the United States and the world (our children felt
that our puzzles were the single best help in creating a mental map of
Song CDs such as Singin’ Smart (singnlearn.com) and Geography Songs
Blank maps printed from the Internet: Outline maps are easy to find with
online searches, but one of my favorites is eduplace.com/ss/maps/
National Geographic Magazine Though the worldview is questionable, it
has wonderful photos and maps, and the articles give great material for
discussion. Board games such as “Where in the World?” “Great States”
“Name that Country” “Mindware Atlas Adventure” and (our favorite for
younger children) “Scrambled States of America Card Game”
Interactive Globes such as “Smart Globe” (from Oregon Scientific) or
“Geosafari Talking Globe”
Card Games Professor Noggins’ “Countries of the World Card Games” and
“Geography of the United States” (These are good for car trips.)
Wall maps, atlases, and globes Keep these handy at all times-you never
know when you might need to refer to them during a game or family
Joyce McPherson is the creator of the online programs “Homeschool Tools”
and “Shakespeare Tools,” as well as the author of a series of
biographies for Greenleaf Press. With her husband, Garth, she
homeschools their nine children. She can be reached through
teachingtools.org or at email@example.com.