I went to our school's geography bee and was shocked by how little most kids
know, including my own fifth-grader. They say they don't have time to teach
geography. What can I do to compensate for this at home?
Climate, culture, oceans,
continents, countries, people, industries, geopolitics . . . geography is a
world of exciting learning.
But it often gets minimized in
schools today. One reason is that kids are not as skilled at reading for
information as they used to be. Their vocabularies are much smaller than a
generation ago, as is their grasp of world events and locations.
Blame TV and computer games, but
also blame educators who have overemphasized entertainment and socialization at
the expense of subjects based on scholarship, such as geometry. But kids have a
keen interest in understanding the world and how it works.
Urge your school to beef up its
geography curriculum, and in the meantime, use that familiar piece of geography
- your kitchen table - to create your own little window on the world for your
child. Here's how:
n Buy a globe. Watch the garage sales
for good prices. Use it as a centerpiece on your kitchen table. It should spark
many relaxed conversations about the world.
n Buy a set of encyclopedias. Used are
OK. You might choose an electronic version, but the old sets of books are
pretty great to have. They don't have to be all that recent to be of excellent
help. Again, garage sales may be your best bet for a money-saving solution.
n Before mealtime, have your child
spin the globe and point to a country. Then the child should bring the
encyclopedia with articles about that country to the table. Look at the maps
and pictures and discuss that country.
n Later, the child can clip newspaper
articles about that country to keep current on it. An old accordion file is
perfect for this.
n The kitchen is the center of the
world's best teaching tool - food. Choose a different country each week and
serve a recipe from that country. Involve your child in the shopping for
special ingredients and cooking.
n Also use your kitchen pantry as a
teaching tool. Challenge your child to look through all your stored food, read
the labels, and list items from 20 different countries. That should open the
conversational door to imports and exports, tariffs and agriculture,
deforestation and soil erosion, and so on.
n Ask friends and family for old
atlases and maps. Encourage your child to tape maps up on a wall, perhaps in
the garage or basement, and put pins in places he or she learns about.
n Old maps can be laminated and used
as placemats. Use them to spark discussions about current events and what it's
like in other countries.
n Involve your child in your travels,
or take imaginary trips that you plan together, using library books and maps to
learn about where you're going - at least, within the geography of your mind.
Homework: The Educated Child by William J. Bennett has a great section on geography.