Geography is no longer a core subject in most Canadian schools, although it is included in the area of Social Studies. But do Canadians really know their geography? One case popped up in the media a couple years ago about a university professor who was complaining that her students could not label a map- some didn’t even know where Africa was! But does that even matter? Read on to find out why kids should learn geography, and how you can help them.
Why should kids learn geography?
It helps put the news in context
If kids learn geography, then when they hear a story on the news from across the globe, they will actually have an idea of where Kenya, or at least Africa, is. They will also know that Africa is not a country! And if Ebola breaks out in one African country, that doesn’t mean that all of Africa is affected.
If kids learn geography, it will also help them learn history
Understanding how close two places sit on the map can help kids see how and why different civilizations influenced each other. Or, it will help them understand the significance of one civilization conquering another. For example, how impressive the distance they covered was, or what resources they would have gained from conquering a territory near the ocean or water ways.
Why was the Panama Canal such a big deal? What happens when a country doesn’t have access to a lake or river, if it is inland? All of these things affect us greatly. The things we can now buy, the professions we work as, the way we communicate over long distances, and the way we live today (such as with electricity) all depended on things like this.
So what does it mean today? What happens when a country like Israel runs out of fresh water? They innovate and start desalination processes. What happens if you cut off water from ISIS in Iraq? How does that affect who can win the war?
Learning geography will help kids understand different cultures
Being surrounded by water, or being in the middle of a desert will drastically affect what a culture values, as well as how they live their daily lives. If kids learn geography from around the globe, they will have the opportunity to gain more of an appreciation for foreign countries and cultures.
It will also help them understand languages, which can shape cultures. Do all languages have a word for “snow”? How would you describe “snow” to someone who has never seen it, and never heard of it? Is it ice? Is it water?
Why do many languages contain words from other languages? For example, the word “telephone” – can you find this word pronounced differently in different countries? Why or why not? What about “tomato”?
What about what we consider to be ‘beautiful’ in the place where we live. Where does the idea of ‘beauty’ come from? Do all cultures see things as ‘beautiful’ in the same way? Why or why not?
Geography gives kids a better worldview
Speaking of the globe, understanding where certain resources come from, or even just where certain places are, will help your child gain an appreciation for the world that goes beyond the borders that they live within.
4 tips to get your kids to learn geography!
1. Get a globe, or a map
A good way to start is by getting a globe or map for your home. Encourage your kids to ask questions about different places- if you don’t know what to tell them about a certain place, have them research it themselves and learn something new!
Travelling is a great way for your kids to learn about different places and cultures. Or, if you can’t go somewhere, watch a documentary about it. We wrote an article, for example, on how to make a trip to Vernon, B.C. more educational for your kids.
3. Get a map puzzle
Map puzzles are great because your kids have to actively think about where each country, province, or state goes. There are even some online, like this one from National Geographic.
And of course, there are plenty of great apps out there to help teach your kids geography! This list by kidworldcitizen.org is great to start with.
5. Start a Flat Stanley Project!
This is a fun way to live through world experiences vicariously through a paper ‘Stanley’ who gets sent in the mail to a friend or relative. The receiver documents where Flat Stanley goes, takes photos with Flat Stanley and writes about the experiences. Flat Stanley can even send back treats for the class at school! Learn more about The Flat Stanley Project here.
And most importantly, have fun helping your kids learn geography! Happy Studying!