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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 peaks
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
particular places.

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 to
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 and
things, and phenomena that cause us to group places into particular regions.

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.

 

 


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