If you had mentioned geography to me twenty years ago, when I started homeschooling, my mind would have immediately visualized dusty maps with puzzling colored shapes and lists of imports, exports, and natural resources. Oh, and currency types. And sometimes a line-up of flags around the border.
But today my concept of geography has changed dramatically. It is now intricately linked to the people and events with whom I’ve formed a relation in my history readings. It is also tied to the present-day people I’ve met through travel books, current event magazines, and missionaries’ videos.
And that’s as it should be. History and geography are not about numbers, they are about real people and real places. They are living subjects and should be taught as such. With the Charlotte Mason method, they are.
Teaching Geography in Context
When geography is taught in the context of people who live in various parts of our world and what their lives are like there, it comes alive. Charlotte used living books, narration, and map work to teach geography that way.
Living Books and Narration
There are wonderful living geography books available that will help your child visit places around the world without ever leaving home. Of course, if you can actually make the trip, do so; but that’s not always possible. Living geography books are the next best thing to being there.
And asking for a narration of each reading will help cement the book’s contents in your child’s mind. You will find that Charlotte used living books and narration to teach many subjects to great advantage. Geography was one of those subjects.
Two living geography books that we have especially enjoyed through the years are Material World and Hungry Planet: What the World Eats by photographer Peter Menzel. In Material World the author went to various countries and took a picture of a typical family outside their house with all of their possessions. Hungry Planet is similar, but in that book he shows families in their kitchens with one week’s worth of groceries. You can imagine the culture and contrasts and similarities that can be learned just from looking closely at the photographs. And the author includes first-hand accounts of his time with the various families.
Living Books on the Map
But there is another way you can use living books to help your child learn about geography. Whenever you read a living book—no matter on which subject,— locate its setting on a world map or globe. This technique will help your child see the countries on the map as places where people and animals reside and events occur, not just as funny-colored shapes.
So if you’re reading Heidi, for example, go look up the Swiss Alps and see where they are located. If you’re reading Jack’s Insects, locate on a map or a globe where each insect lives. Such natural connections do wonders to help make geography “living” for your child.
And then, to help students put the pieces together—to discover which countries are next to each other, which are near an ocean, or where the coldest countries are collected, for example—we also include map drill.
A simple once-a-week activity can help your child become familiar with that bigger picture. Give each child a blank outline map of the region (I usually focus on one continent at a time.) and ask him to label any countries he already knows. When he has labeled all he knows, give him a labeled map of the region. Tell him to check that he has recorded correct spellings and locations, then to copy one or two more countries onto his map. The next week, give him a new blank outline map of the same region and repeat the instructions.
As he sees the same region each week, he will become quite familiar with it and, little by little, put together the pieces in his mind. When coupled with the living books ideas given above, map drill will help round out your geography studies.
The Visits to . . . geography notebooks are designed to help you teach geography in that way. Each notebook focuses on one region of the world. The once-a-week lessons feature passages from Material World and Hungry Planet, narration prompts, map drills, and other recommended living books that take place in that region.
It was Charlotte Mason’s goal that the geography lesson would be so alive to the students that it would “take them there” in their imaginations (Vol. 6, p. 40). You can accomplish that goal with a combination of living books, narration, and map work.
Planning Your Charlotte Mason Education
One of the beauties of a Charlotte Mason education is that you can customize it to fit your family’s schedule, size, and situation. The Planning Your Charlotte Mason Education book and DVD will walk you through that process step by step.
It won’t tell you what books to use or what you should do each day; rather, it will help you think through what will work best for your family and put it all together into a doable plan. (If you want suggestions for what books to use, our SCM Curriculum Guide lists our favorites by subject and grade level.)
The Planning Your Charlotte Mason Education book gives you easy-to-use charts and lots of practical tips and ideas that will help you get organized and feel confident with your schedule. If you find that it helps to have someone talk you through the process, rather than just reading about it, add the corresponding DVD. The video features Sonya talking you through the book.