We are back at it today talking about one of my favorite topics—studying geography. I suppose my interest in geography started in 7th grade during my first geography class in junior high. We had to memorize the location of every country and capital in the world at the time. And though it was daunting I am still appreciative of the awareness that course provided me to the world around me. While the world has changed and I don’t remember every country or capital, most of the time I can at least tell you the continent a country is on when it pops up in the news. Knowing the location and cultural information about a country has also helped me to better know how to pray for a certain country or people group as they come up in my prayer app and has made me more missionally aware.
Now that my kids are older I want them to have that cultural and geographical awareness to the world around them. And, while I sometimes hope they will stay close to home when they are grown, I also hope they desire to visit other cultures and share the gospel along the way because it’s an amazingly beautiful thing to see all that God has designed in this world. Besides, as the saying goes, “you are the same person today except for the books you read, the places you go and the people you meet along the way.” World geography is one of the few studies, that can literally take you around the world and impact you from all three directions.
So out of my desire to share the world with by my girls and to instill in them a missional mindset, a few years ago I compiled and wrote the online homeschool curriculum My First Trip Around the World. I’ll share more about that curriculum in a bit, but as a result of writing that curriculum, I learned a lot more about world cultures as it pertains to our kids. So today I want to share 5 things that you need to focus on when teaching geography, no matter what curriculum you use or the age you are teaching.
A Country’s Location
When most people think of studying geography, this is where they start, and for good reason. It’s important to know a country’s location as it has an important impact on the country’s climate, weather, natural resources, and more.
Have your students find the country on both a world map and a globe as students process a country’s location differently in 2D and 3D. Have them look up the location of major landmarks and important cities as well as what countries surround the borders and the overall terrain. Use this information to have your child hypothesize how the location of this particular country might impact their economy, their clothing choice, or even what they eat?
Take a look at the country’s flag. Does the flag incorporate colors and/or designs from another country’s flag? If so, why do you think this is? Is this country a former colony of a similar flag’s country? You might also have your student research what the colors and symbols of the flag stand for as they often tend to tell you a lot about the country.
One of my favorite resources for introducing kids to a country is the Geography Now YouTube channel. The host Paul, does a fun job of presenting a lot of important factual information about each country in a short and entertaining way that I find kids of most ages will find interesting.
A Country’s Demographics
Once students learn about the location of a country, it’s time to look at the demographics or people of the country. What are the different people groups present in the country? Do the people groups differ greatly from other countries around them? What languages are spoken? Is there a national language? What is the country’s economy like? Do most live in poverty? Or, is it a first-world country? What is the political make-up of the country? Is it a democracy? A dictatorship? A monarchy? And again, once you find out the answers to these questions, hypothesize how these particular traits impact the country’s every day life.
This is when I usually pull out books like Passport to the World by Craig Froman or one of Peter Menzel’s books such as Material World or Hungry Planet—to give a visual to the people living in a particular location. This is also why I like to use a lot of videos when teaching geography. There is something about seeing a people in action that makes geography come more to life. Which brings me to the next important area to focus on when teaching geography and that is….
A Country’s Culture
A country’s culture can mean a lot of things, but for the sake of geography, I encourage you to hone in on a country’s music styles, favorite sports, favorite foods, traditions, and religions. Sometimes these important culture makers are left out when studying geography, partly because of time constraints, but also because it is more anthropology than geography.
That said, I think it can often be the area of study that will impact your child the most as he or she studies about a particular country. Again, this is where looking up cultural videos on YouTube and the like can have a major impact on the understanding of the people who live in a particular country.
One of the most impactful videos that my girls and I watched when we completed our Central Africa study in My First Journey Around the World was the video talking about child labor around the world. It told the story of a young girl who worked in a brick factory hauling bricks. Each family got paid by the number of bricks they loaded so they involved everyone in the work in order to survive. This video had a major impact on our family and is one reason we do our best to support an impoverished child around the world each year through Give. Hope. Global.
A Country’s History
So once we have taken a look at a country’s culture, if we have time, we try to take a look at a country’s history and political connections as observing a country’s history allows us to even better understand the people and society of the modern country. Now when you are looking at a country’s history from a geographical perspective, this isn’t some long drawn out research project. Most of the time, we care about important events—government invasions, cultural migrations, and genocides as each can dramatically change the outcome of a culture.
A lot people have found that Mr. History on YouTube is a good resource for this. Just be aware, occasionally he takes an old earth view of history, if this is a concern for you. Personally, this is when I like to have my girls read living books that take place in the country we are studying.
While we don’t often focus on the history of the country, the girls tend to learn a lot about the history and the culture of a country when reading a relevant historical fiction or non-fiction book. For example, reading a biography of David Livingstone while you are studying some countries in Africa or Lottie Moon when studying China can not only tell your child a lot about the historical setting of a country but the spiritual one as well. If you are not sure where to start, I encourage you to look at books by Janet and Geoff Benge who have taken great efforts to write about missionaries and other important Christian figures from around the world. I also provide several other age appropriate recommendations in My First Amazing Journey Around the World. I’ll be sure to include a link in the show notes.
A Country’s Mission Efforts
Finally, I never want to end a geographical study without looking at the missional efforts in the area—what is being done to spread the gospel to the area we are studying and how we can pray. Window on the World by Operation World Resources is a great companion for this as well as Operation World and it’s abridged counterpart Pray for the World by the same network for older readers.
I often like to say, “You’ve studied about another country. That’s great. But what was the point? What are you going to do with the new information you now possess? How will that change you? How will you use that information in the future?” And one of the first things we can do as a family and as individuals is pray. Operation World has done an amazing job of providing bullet point lists we can choose to pray over each country as we learn about it.
Who knows…by studying world geography, your child may feel called to become a missionary somewhere around the world. Or, they may learn how to better relate and reach a neighbor who recently immigrated from another country. Or, they may feel called to give and support a child overseas so that that child can go to school or get the water they so desperately need. Or, they may feel called to pray. And all are worthy callings. After all, as John 3:16 says, God so loved the WORLD…” and I can feel no higher calling than that. As Avery Rimiller comments, “God deserves all the glory, honor, and praise and one day his glory will cover the earth as the water covers the seas. That’s why praying for the nations matter, because when the nations know who Jesus is, not only will they be saved but they will be able to do what they were made to do: worship God and be completely loved by him.”
And on that amazing note, tune in next week as discuss 5 fun and unique holidays to celebrate this fall. After all, we like making homeschool fun as well as educational. And, if you found today’s episode especially interesting, be sure to check out My First Amazing Journey Around the World. With that, we will see you next time.