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Practical Homeschooling® :

Geography for Little Ones

By Melissa Morgan
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #69, 2006.

Preschool geography can be all fun and games.
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Melissa Morgan

Is preschool geography worth your time and money? Preschoolers already have a pretty full learning schedule - eat neat, use the potty, pedal a trike, and sing the ABCs. Most small children have little or no understanding of distance and direction. To a preschooler, a lesson about China can be confusing. Small children may wonder, "Is China near grandma's house? Can we drive to China?" Can a preschooler comprehend geography?

Preschooler geography can be easy and cost little or nothing. You don't need a textbook; simply make geography fun and games.

Body Directions

First, don't worry if your preschooler doesn't quite "get" it - many kids struggle with directions, even in elementary years. Just relax, and have fun.

Start with basic body directions - left hand, right shoe. When my youngest was tiny, I used a marker to write R for right and L for left on the bottom of her shoes with a marker. She learned a little about phonics, learned which shoe to put on, and also began to orient herself to the difference between right and left.

The Neighborhood

Next, take a walk and talk around the neighborhood. Little kids see so much more walking than they do driving. Talk about the street you live on, house numbers, and important places and geographical features nearby. Geography can spark an early desire to write. Help your child trace - with very big letters - his name, house number, street name, city name, state and country name.

Make a model of your neighborhood with toy houses (possibly game pieces), blocks, or cardboard boxes. Use toy cars, trucks, buses, and trains to show how people and things move about. If you make your model outside, use sand or dirt to make roads, and use clay or plastic bowls to build bodies of water.

Pretend to go to nearby places with play figures. Expand your play to incorporate learning basic directions, city and state naming, and even family history into your play.

Ask your local department of tourism if they offer free local maps. You can also draw your own simple maze or map. Cover your map with clear plastic. Use fingers or erasable pens to trace routes on the map from your house to church, stores, libraries, friends, or relatives. Make your own simple Geography puzzles. Cut out big, simple pieces of the map. Put the map back together.

Maps and Compass

Use directional vocabulary in everyday life. Use a compass, and talk about how the arrow points to the direction of north. Talk about N standing for north, S for south, etc. Talk about which direction the sun rises and sets, and which direction in relation to your home.

Make your own (carefully supervised) compass. Place the eye of a needle over a magnet overnight. The next day, it will have become a magnet! Stick the needle through a small piece of cork, and place it in a bowl of water. Spin the needle. When it stops, it should be pointing north/south.

Find many free plans and activities on the Internet to make your own sun-dependent compass out of rocks and sticks. Simply search for "make your own compass" in yahoo.com or your favorite search engine. You can even find free plans to make your own globe out of a ball!

If your preschooler wants more formal geography lessons, like big brother or sister, you could help him make a three-dimensional geography picture. Use play clay to form mountains, rivers and other geographical features on a map. You could also provide geography words to trace. Help him write direction words - North, South, West, East - or up, down, left, right, etc.

Far Away Places

Once kids have some concept of spatial orientation, distance and direction, they can better comprehend about far away places. Show your child how you address an envelope, and talk about where the letter will go. Make or buy a toy mailbox, and play mailman together with pretend letters. Bring out photo albums, and look at old picture postcards together.

Study maps and talk about where grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and church missionaries live now or visited in the past. Consider putting a map under plastic on a dining or coffee table, and pray about distant people and places. If a friend or family member collects foreign stamps or coins, you can give your preschool a (careful) hands-on experience.

Churches offer free information about missionaries and how to help meet the needs of others in foreign lands. Your child will relate well to the idea of helping a child his or her age who lives in another country. Many churches participate in a program to send gifts and supplies in shoe boxes to needy kids at Christmas. However, you can send donations for gifts - from baby chicks to medical care - any time during the year. Find out more about this program at www.samaritanspurse.org.

Receive a free monthly newsletter from Christian Freedom (www.christianfreedom.org) and The Voice of the Martyrs (www.persecution.com). Find out about what our brothers and sisters in Christ experience and learn more about history, geography, and social studies. Help your child write to a Christian in prison. The Voice of the Martyrs also offers a free Christian Witness under Fire map.

Other Cultures

Little kids learn a lot from attending an international festival or visiting a multi-cultural worship service. Kids can study different cultures, diverse costumes, other languages, and many lands. A trip to the zoo can spark questions and answers about where other animals live. You might even want to bring maps with you to the zoo and show your youngster different parts of the world where you can find polar bears, kangaroos, monkeys, and tigers.

At bedtime or before nap time, read simple stories out loud (such as the Babar the elephant and the Madeline series) that feature characters from other cultures, languages and places. You may also enjoy borrowing audio-visual resources from the library, especially if they feature animals from other lands. Talk about where the animals live, and what kind of environment they need.

Free Geography Worksheets

Find printable and age appropriate geography worksheets at www.preschoollearners.com. Preschoolers do activities such as matching flags in one column to matching flags in an opposite column. Find lots more free preschool resources, lesson plans, and printable preschool worksheets at www.tlsbooks.com/edulinks.htm.

Keep academics simple and fun. Most small children will learn more if you use turn taking and offer lots of choices. Do you want to use pencils or markers? What color? Then play with the worksheet with your child, like a game. You could draw a line to match flags. Next your child takes a turn. Most preschoolers love this kind of attention. Without realizing it, they will also be practicing thinking skills and hand-eye coordination.

For little kids, learning is just a game. Play the geography game; your child will love learning with you!

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