Help Your Child Learn Geography
Remember thumbing through an atlas or encyclopedia as a
child, imagining yourself as a world traveler on a safari
in Africa, or boating up the Mississippi River, climbing the
of the Himalayas, visiting ancient cathedrals and castles
of Europe, the Great Wall of China? We do. The world seemed
full of faraway, exotic, and wonderful places that we wanted
to know more about.
Today, we would like to believe that youngsters are growing
up similarly inquisitive about the world. Perhaps they are,
but recent studies and reports indicate that, if such imaginings
are stirring in our youngsters, they're not being translated
into knowledge. Not that there ever was a "golden age"
when all our young and all our citizens were conversant about
the peoples and places of the globe. Still, there is considerable
evidence that such knowledge among young Americans has dipped
to an alarming low.
Last year, a nine-nation survey found that one in five young
Americans (18- to 24-year-olds) could not locate the United
States on an outline map of the world. Young Americans
knew measurably less geography than Americans 25 years of
age and over. Only in the United States did 18- to 24-year-olds
know less than people 55 years old and over; in all eight
other nations, young adults knew more than the older ones.
No less disturbing was the fact that our young adults, when
compared with young adults in other countries, came in last
place in a 1980 Gallup Poll. Our 18- to 24-year-olds knew
less about geography than their age-mates in every other participating
nation. But it shouldn't surprise us. Youngsters in other
countries study more geography. In England, Canada,
and the Soviet Union, geography is considered one of the basic
academic subjects and is required of most secondary students;
in the United States, only one in seven students takes a high
school geography course.
You'd think that our students learn at least some geography,
though, in their world history classes. Those who take world
history probably do. But that's only 44 percent of our high
school graduates. More than half of our high school students
are graduating without studying world history.
If youngsters are to acquire an appreciation of geography
and ultimately learn to think geographically, parents and
communities must insist that local schools restore it to
prominence in the curriculum. They should insist that geography
be studied and learned, in one form or another, through several
years of the primary and secondary curriculum.
Learning should not be restricted to the classroom. Parents
are a child's first teachers and can do much to advance a
youngster's geographic knowledge. This booklet suggests some
ways to do so.
It is based on a fundamental assumption: that children generally
learn what adults around them value. The significance attached
to geography at home or at school can be estimated in a glance
at the walls and bookshelves.
Simply put, youngsters who grow up around maps and atlases
are more likely to get the "map habit" than youngsters
who do not. Where there are maps, atlases, and globes, discussions
of world events (at whatever intellectual level) are more
likely to include at least a passing glance at their physical
location. Turning to maps and atlases frequently leads youngsters
to fashion, over time, their own "mental maps" of
the world--maps that serve not only to organize in their minds
the peoples, places, and things they see and hear about in
the news, but also to suggest why certain events unfold in
Helping every child develop his or her ability to use maps
and to develop mental maps of the world ought to become a
priority in our homes and schools. For, as we all know, our
lives are becoming an ever tighter weave of interactions with
people around the world. If our businesses are to fare well
in tomorrow's world markets, if our national policies are
achieve our aims in the future, and if our relationships with
other peoples are to grow resilient and mutually enriching,
our children must grow to know what in the world is where.
This booklet is designed to help parents stir children's
curiosity and steer that curiosity toward geographic questions
and knowledge. It is organized around the five themes recently
set forth by geographers and geography educators across the
Nation--the physical location of a place, the character of
a place, relationships between places, movement of people
things, and phenomena that cause us to group places into particular
We encourage parents to get to the fun part--that is, the
activities. The games, maps, and suggested activities that
follow, while informal and easy to do, can help lay a solid
foundation in experience for children's later, more academic
forays into geography.
Children are playing in the sand. They make roads for cars.
One builds a castle where a doll can live. Another scoops
out a hole, uses the dirt to make a hill, and pours some water
in the hole to make a lake. Sticks become bridges and trees.
The children name the streets, and may even use a watering
can to make rain.
Although they don't know it, these children are learning
the principles of geography. They are locating things, seeing
how people interact with he Earth, manipulating the environment,
learning how weather changes the character of a place, and
looking at how places relate to each other through the movement
of things from one place to another.