Focus on Geography


        The question I ask my first-graders sounds easy enough: "What state do we live in?" The most popular answer: "The United States." I can see I have my work cut out for me, geographically speaking.

        I shouldn’t be too surprised, as this reflects the national disgrace that most Americans are pitifully ignorant about geography. Parents can help bring greater geographic and global awareness to their children. Here are a few family activities. All you need is an atlas or globe as a reference tool:

  • When you shop for groceries, look for labels on fruit, vegetables, and other food items to indicate the country or region of origin.
  • Look on the labels in your family’s clothing and other household items.
  • If your family speaks another language besides English, talk to your child about its country of origin. When you hear people speaking other languages, teach your child to be respectful of this. Most people, if approached in a friendly way, will be delighted to teach you and your child a few words of their native tongue.
  • Plant nurseries are full of greenery that originates from many places around the world. Public gardens usually label their growth so that you can find out about areas of origin. If you don’t find labels, ask around for a docent or brochure.
  • Whether your favorite source for news is television, newspaper, radio, or the Internet, the media is rich with references to other countries.
  • Use direction words such as north, south, east, and west to describe where you are walking or driving. Relate these words to the directions used on maps. The same principles are involved whether you are using a road map or atlas.
  • When communicating with family members who live outside your immediate area, talk with the children about the city, state, or country in which they live.

        When your child shows deeper interest, move from the atlas to books that cover history, language, and customs of other peoples. In so doing, you will have a child who is well prepared for geographic references wherever she encounters them.

This column has been incorporated and expanded in Teach Your Children Well: A Teacher’s  Advice for Parents.

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