Education Guides

Help Your Child Learn Geography

Children are playing in the sand. They make roads for cars. One builds a castle where a doll can live. Another scoops out a hole, uses the dirt to make a hill, and pours some water in the hole to make a lake. Sticks become bridges and trees. The children name the streets and may even use a watering can to make rain.

Although they don"t know it, these children are learning the principles of geography. They are seeing how people interact with the Earth, manipulating the environment, learning how climate changes the character of a place, and looking at how places relate to each other through the movement of things from one place to another.

With this article, we hope you, as parents, will get ideas for activities that will use your children"s play to help them learn more geography--the study of the Earth. Most of the suggestions in this article are geared to children from 5 to 10 years of age. Keep in mind, however, that youngsters vary widely in their development, and others--younger and older--may find the activities appropriate.

The activities and games are organized around five specific themes* that help focus our thinking:

1. Where are things located?

2. What characteristics make a place special?

3. What are relationships among people and places?

4. What are the patterns of movement of people, products, and information?

5. How can the Earth be divided into regions for study?

Each chapter begins with some background and examples of questions that geographers use as they strive to understand the Earth. This is followed by activities to help children learn key ideas.

*These five themes were developed by the Committee on Geographic Information of the National Council for Geographic Education and the Association of American Geographers. They are consistent with the standards for teaching geography to students K-12, released in 1994. See References.


Look at a map or globe. Where are places located? Every place has a global address that tells exactly where in the world it"s located, just as your home has a street address. There are two numbers in a global address--a number for LATITUDE and one for LONGITUDE. If you know these numbers and how to use them, you can find any place in the world and give its ABSOLUTE LOCATION. (For definitions, see the glossary at the end of this article.)

Why are things located in particular places and how do these places influence our lives? Location can describe how one place relates to another. For example, the Panama Canal was cut across an extremely narrow strip of land in Central America. It provides a shipping lane between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, eliminating the need for long, dangerous journeys around South America.


Learning Direction

o To help young children learn location, make sure they know the name of their town and their street address, and that they can describe the building and neighborhood in which they live. Then, when you talk about other places, they have something of their own with which to compare.

Children need to understand positional words. Teach children words like ``above" and below in a natural way when you talk with them or give them directions. When picking up toys to put away, say, Please put your toy into the basket on the right, or Put the green washcloth into the drawer. Right and left are as much directional terms as north, south, east, and west. Other words that describe such features as color, size, and shape are also important.

o Show your children north, south, east, and west by using your home as a reference point. Perhaps you can see the sun rising in the morning through a bedroom window that faces east and setting at night through a kitchen window on the west.

o Playing games can reinforce their knowledge. For example, once children have their directional bearings, you can hide an object, then give them directions to its location: Two steps to the north, three steps west. . .

Get the Map Habit

Put your child"s natural curiosity to work. Even small children can learn to read simple maps of their school, neighborhood, and community. Here are some simple map activities you can do with your children.

o Go on a walk and collect natural materials such as acorns and leaves to use for an art project. Map the location where you found those items.

o Create a treasure map for children to find hidden treats in the yard or inside your home (a fun idea for birthday parties). Also, encourage children to play this game with one another--hiding the treasure and drawing the map. Or, some rainy day, suggest they draw imaginary treasure maps just for fun.

o See if you can find your street on a town or city map. Point out where your relatives or your children"s best friends live.

o Find the nearest park, lake, mountain, or other cultural or physical feature on a map. Then, talk about how these features affect your child"s life. Living near the ocean may make your climate moderate and bring tourists to the area. Mountains may block some weather fronts and offer recreational opportunities, such as camping and hiking.

o Point out different kinds of maps to your children--such as a state highway map, a city or town map, a bus route map or shopping mall map--and discuss their different uses. Also, check the back of this article for samples of three different types of maps.

o Before taking a trip, show your children a map of where you are going and how you plan to get there. Look for other routes you could take and talk about why you chose the one you did. Maybe they can follow the map as you travel; for example, when you get to one town, ask them to tell you the next.

o Encourage your children to make their own maps using legends (keys to what the pictures or symbols in a map mean). They can draw fanciful maps of places or journeys they have read about. Older children might draw a layout of their neighborhood.

o Keep a globe or a world map near the television and use it to locate places talked about on television programs, or use a U.S. map to follow the travels of your favorite sports team.

o Look at a map of your state. Look at the numbers at the bottom and the letters at the right and imagine lines extended that divide the map into a grid. Use the scale to measure the straight-line distance between two cities.

o On a globe or world map, ask your child to point with a finger to the North Pole, South Pole, and the Equator. Ask which is the Western Hemisphere, the Eastern Hemisphere, and in which one do we live. Find the lines running from the North Pole to the South Pole and identify them as lines of longitude. Find the lines that run parallel to the Equator--lines of latitude. Are the lines numbered? Talk about what these lines mean. Try to figure out roughly the degrees of longitude and latitude for where you live--your global address.

Location Is Everything!

Children use all of their senses to learn about the world. Objects that they can touch, see, smell, taste, and hear help them understand the link between a model (such as a map) and the real thing.

o Put together puzzles of the United States or the world. By touching and looking at the puzzle pieces, they can better understand where one place is located in relation to others.

o Use pictures from books and magazines to help your children associate geographic terms with visual images. A picture of a desert can stimulate conversation about the features of a desert--dry and barren. Talk about many different places and imagine what it would be like to visit them.

o Make a three-dimensional map of your home or neighborhood using milk cartons for buildings. Draw a map of the block on a piece of cardboard, then cut up the cartons (or any other three-dimensional item) and use them to represent buildings. Use bottle tops or smaller boxes to add interest to the map, but try to keep the scale relationships fairly accurate (e.g., 2 feet on the map equals 1 city block).

o Use popular board games like Game of the States or Trip Around the World to teach your children about location, commerce, transportation, and the relationships among different countries and areas of the world. Some of these games may be available at public libraries.

o Make a globe out of papier-mache using strips of old newspaper and a paste made from flour and water. In doing this, children will better understand the differences between a flat map and a globe.


Make the paste by mixing 1 part flour with 2 parts water. Tear Newspaper strips about 1 inch wide and 3 inces long. Blow up a balloon and tie it. Dip the strips into the paste and wrap the balloon as smoothly as possible with one layer of the papier-mache strips. Then wrap it again with three more layers; at this stage, try using the papier-mache to make models of mountains and valleys. Let the wrapped balloon dry for at least 24 hours.

Then using poster or tempera paints, paint the continents and oceans.


Every place has a personality. And, just like people, places may have a lot in common, but no two are exactly alike.

What makes a place special? What are the physical and human characteristics of your hometown? Is the soil sandy or rocky? Is the temperature warm or is it cold? Did important historical events occur there? Is it near a river or lake? What physical characteristics are most important or unique?

What about the people? How are they affected by the characteristics of place? Their language, style of government, architecture, industries--all define the special character of a place.



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By Courtney Lynne I am an analyst by profession and trend researching is my passion. I also loves to share my knowledge. Get me on Google + and Twitter Find us on Google+

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