Classical Christian Homeschooling

Geography in the Grammar Stage

Christine Miller

Developing Geographic Awareness

Maps and Globes

Memorizing Geographical Facts

Developing Geographic Awareness

Stories about other lands are the natural first step of the grammar of geography, and can begin before a child even enters first grade. Picture book read-alouds such as The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack, about duck herding on the Yangtzee River; On Mother’s Lap by Ann Herbert Scott, about an Eskimo mother and her children; and Pelle’s New Suit by Elsa Beskow, about a little boy growing up in Sweden, are excellent ways to introduce the concept of other people and places to a child.

This familiarization should continue all throughout the grammar stage. As a child advances in his reading ability, continue to provide quality literature for him to read about other people and places, along with his other reading that he is doing for history and for the joy of beautiful stories. The books of G. A. Henty are great for this, such as For Name and Fame, or Through Afghan Passes about the First Afghan War, or The Tiger of Mysore about the British in India. Others that our family has enjoyed are King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry, A Prairie Boy’s Summer by William Kurelek, anything by Meindert DeJong and Kate Seredy, Heidi by Johanna Spyri, Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates by Mary Dodge, and Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry.

True stories about Christians in other countries, and resources for children from organizations such as Voice of the Martyrs, are another excellent way to increase your children’s awareness of the world around them, while at the same time helping them develop a heart of compassion for people all over the earth. And National Geographic or Discovery Channel specials on television are also wonderful tools for increasing geographic awareness.

International, Domestic News Re: Christians & Missions

Maps and Globes

The concepts of maps and globes, the three dimensional world represented in two dimensions or large distances shrunk down and represented by very small distances, is a concept that takes our children time to fully understand. In a way, they will not be totally comfortable with all the abstractions involved until the higher stages. This is perfectly okay. We are content to let the understanding dawn in the higher stages in the other subjects, as well.

Teaching how to use maps and globes involves in some degree an understanding of the relationship between them and the real world. This is something that you can plant the seeds for in this stage, expecting your children to reap the fruit later on. For map and globe learning, exposure is the key, just as it is in reading lots of stories about other places. If exposure to the tidbits of geographic information occurs faithfully and frequently, and in lots of different ways, then in the higher stages the building blocks will be there from which something can be pulled together, when they have matured to that point of understanding.

Our children will probably not be able to pull together all the geographic information they are receiving at this stage: they probably will not be able to easily associate Heidi with the map of Switzerland recently studied, at least in a way that means to them that this story occurred in that place, with the full understanding of “that place” intact. By all means tell that the story takes place in Switzerland, and point out Switzerland on the world map, and look at picture books of the Alps. But do not be surprised if tidbits of geographic information such as the above example remain disjointed from other tidbits floating around in their brains, at least in the beginning. Concepts such as the meaning of map legends may not sink in right away. I mention this because it was frustrating for me to teach maps and globes to my oldest not understanding that the dawning of the concepts would come over time. Just knowing that the dawning builds with exposure helps us to maintain reasonable expectations, and encourages us to provide lots of varied exposure in many of our child’s other subjects.

The formal introduction of maps and globes can wait until a child begins to have more free time in his curriculum because phonics and penmanship has been learned; around the 3rd or 4th grade. Even before that, however, as other places are encountered in history study, freely use maps to illustrate the history. This is one way to increase exposure to geographic information. In our home we have an extensive collection of National Geographic maps, and when beginning a new history study, we pull the appropriate NG map out of the file, and the children trace the map on newsprint from the NG map. They include all physical features, such as mountain ranges and rivers. They color their map and label it, and then their handmade map is the one that goes up on the wall. As we encounter places, cities, and battles in history, they mark them on the map.

The first time children work on a history map, abstract concepts such as being able to use a scale of miles will probably be fuzzy. However over time, if they work on lots and lots of history and other maps over the course of the grammar stage, they will begin to become familiar with not only scales of miles and how they work, but legends, how three dimensional realities such as elevation are depicted on two dimensional paper, and other abstractions.

Later in the grammar stage the knowledge of latitude and longitude, the names of the International Date Line and the Greenwich Meridian, the Tropic of Cancer and Capricorn, the Equator and Arctic and Antarctic Circles should all be learned. Save the discussions of why the Arctic Circle has a midnight sun and such for the dialectic stage. It is enough that grammar stage children know that it does. A map skills workbook can be used later in the grammar stage to practice and solidify any map work concepts that might be lacking.

Memorizing Geographical Facts

Even though a child’s understanding of how space, distance, and places are represented two-dimensionally will take time to fully mature, there is plenty of geographic information that children can master in the grammar stage. Children can learn by rote the capitals of states and countries of the world before they even have a clear idea of what exactly a capital is. Children can learn to identify the names of countries that are pointed out on a map. Along with that country’s name, they should be able to tell something about that country--its people, its climate, its religion, its place in history, its important economic contributions to the world, and so on. World landmarks should also be learned—the Danube River, the Rocky Mountains, the Gobi Desert, the Tasman Sea.

Keep in mind that a child has roughly six years to acquire this information. The world map could be divided into its four hemispheres, and each hemisphere thoroughly covered each year with respect to countries, capitals, peoples, and landmarks; or the entire world can be reviewed every year, one year focusing on countries and capitals, the next on people and religion, the next on climate and economics, saving the final year for landmarks and review.

Finally, it is important for children to learn the history of mankind’s discovery of geographical knowledge—begin with Eratosthenes measuring the earth, and include the great explorers and explorations, and the development of map-making as a science. This could be easily included with the regular world history study taking place in the grammar stage, without requiring separate study time.

Important Links:

Geography Curriculum for the Grammar Stage

All Through the Ages:
Geographic Awareness Through Literature

International, Domestic News re: Christians & Missions

National Geographic: Maps and Geography Online

World Atlas and World Maps

Altapedia Online

Education Index: Geography

The Grammar Stage Subject Index

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WebMaster: Christine Miller / This page last revised: February 2003
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