Sometimes, a young child becomes “famous” for being able to name every element on the periodic table, or name every president since the birth of our country. I love how adorable they sound when they say, “Dord Wassinton,” and how they swing their legs that can’t touch the ground. As cute as they are, part of me always thinks, “That seems like a lot of work for a party trick!” When we focus intently on one area and neglect other areas that are interesting and worthy to learn about, our children don’t get a well-rounded education. Geography is an area that is often left out of public school curricula, and replaced with more reading, more writing, and more arithmetic. But, in a Charlotte Mason education, geography is an interesting and beautiful thing to learn about. Children can start learning about it in their early years, during their outdoor play.
Charlotte Mason wrote about geography in Home Education, her volume dedicated to the education of children from ages 0-9. She doesn’t specifically give an age range for her geography recommendations, but many of her ideas just require an interesting landscape and an imagination, two things that abound during the early years.
I’ve added some ideas of my own to each section, and you can get a free printable with even more ideas through the sign-up below.
But the mother, who knows better, will find a hundred opportunities to teach geography by-the-way: a duck pond is a lake or an in-land sea; any brooklet will serve to illustrate the great rivers of the world; a hillock grows into a mountain– an Alpine system; a hazel copse suggests the mighty forests of the Amazon; a reedy swamp, the rice-fields of China; a meadow, the boundless prairies of the West; the pretty purple flowers of the common mallow is a text wheron to hang the cotton fields of the Southern States; indeed, the whole field of pictorial geography– maps may wait until by-and-by– may be covered in this way.” Home Education, page 72
Charlotte Mason calls this pictorial geography, and what a precious, imaginative way to spend those hours outside! We have a little creek near us that is often dry. It splits into two around a little island, and those features fodder the imaginations of my children, who love to pretend that they are in Hawaii, or stranded on an island, or that the mighty, rushing river is in need of a dam. When I make a suggestion, like, “Let’s pretend to climb up this mountain!” when we are walking up a small hill, my children are so very thrilled that I’m pretending with them. This early sort of geography is certainly different than the facts memorization variety that so many of us remember, and it is sure to harvest curiosity about the world around them.
- Familiarize yourself with the names of natural features so that you can share them with your children. This is an easy to follow geography guide from Triumphant Learning (affiliate link).
- Find a favorite nature spot and get familiar with it. Identify similarities to specific geographical features. The chances are that these features will feed their imaginations for years to come!
- Depending on your accessibility to nature, allow your children to make their own mountains, rivers, lakes, etc., in a favorite nature area.
The Position of the Sun
And not only this; the child should be taught to observe the position of the sun in the heavens from hour to hour, and by his position, to tell the time of day.” Home Education, page 73
This should be a simple skill, but it’s somewhat of a lost art. Great navigators of the past used the sun and other stars not just for timekeeping, but for knowing their way. The simplest way to start this is by watching the sunset. In the evening, at least during the fall and winter months, the setting sun indicates that it’s time to go inside and start making dinner. (In the summer months, the setting sun is a point of contention as it doesn’t go down until after bedtime!)
- Using chalk, put an X on concrete, and have your child stand on it various times throughout the day. They can mark how their shadow changes as the sun moves across the sky.
- With slightly older children, make a sun dial, like this one.
…the first idea of distance is to be attained by what children find to be a delightful operation. A child walks at his usual pace, somebody measures and tells him the length of his pace, and then he measures the paces of his brothers and sisters. Then, such a walk, such a distance, here and there, is solemnly paced– and a little sum follows– so many inches or feet covered by each pace equals so many yards in the whole distance.” Home Education, page 73
I think it’s charming to see the concept of distance develop in my children. At first, they have a difficult time understanding the difference between near and far. About a year ago, during a 45-minute drive to the north part of Denver, Miss H asked me if we were in Iowa yet. The concept of distance will be a fun one for children of four, five, and beyond, to begin developing, but it is most likely too abstract for the very young.
- In addition to measuring paces, use lengths of arms as a standard of measurement. Your little ones will enjoy measuring how many “arms tall” a fence, tree, or boulder is.
- Find sticks that are approximately one yard long, and help your children use them to measure.
By the time they have got somewhat familiar with the idea of distance, that of direction should be introduced. The first step is to make children observant of the progress of the sun. The child who observes the sun for a year and notes down for himself, or dictates, the times of his writing and setting for the greater part of a year, and the points of his rising and setting, will have secured a basis for a good deal of definite knowledge.” Home Education, page 74
“Of course the first two ideas are that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west; from this fact he will be able to tell the direction in which the places near his own home, or the streets of his own town, lie….All the houses, streets, and towns on his right hand are to the east of him, those on the left are to the west.” Home Education, pages 74-75
While observing the position of the sun to understand the time of day, children should pay attention to the sun’s heat, where it rises and sets, the course it takes through the sky, etc.
- Find a natural landmark to note where the sun sets each day. Where we live in Colorado, we the sun sinks below the mountains every evening. It’s relatively easy to navigate here because the mountains are always to our west.
- Keep a little journal noting the time that the sun rises and sets each day. Use a local weather source to help you.
And more geography ideas…
I’ve included more to this post, as well as a printable list of ideas for implementing Charlotte Mason’s guidelines in a PDF. For me, if I have ideas written down, I will be more likely to do them! The list and guide will be emailed directly to you right now through the sign-up form on the page.