Do you remember your first experience with learning geography? Was it positive? Was it memorable? It might have been an inspiring teacher who made it come alive, a family vacation that ignited excitement to travel or explore map skills, or a television show on world travel. Or, like many of us homeschool moms, it may have been as you taught your kids!
While preparing to write this, I was reminded of what I believe to be one of the only actual classes on geography I ever took. It was in Seventh grade with Mr. Grist.
Mr. Grist, a retired, silver-haired, ex-military colonel who took up teaching as a second career, was from Alaska and had lived there for many years. Having traveled extensively, he always had fascinating stories to share about different places. He brought pictures and objects to class (mostly from Alaska), but also from other places. He must have worn his parka to class often because in my memory of Mr. Grist, he has that coat on.
I believe he not only passed on to me a love for travel and a desire to see the places we learned about, but specifically a love for Alaska. I even remember the Bering Strait as the location where the easternmost point of Asia and westernmost point of North America meet and where the Arctic and Pacific connect. I remember the temperature, varying length of daylight throughout the year, terrain type, animals, and that Denali is the highest peak in North America.
You can imagine my thrill in 2018 when I had the opportunity to work with GeoMatters at the homeschool conventions in Alaska!
As an adult looking back on that geography class I can tell you those stories, pictures and objects all helped me remember. It stuck for me. Beyond just learning, I was inspired to learn more!
Being able to visualize and relate to Alaska through the storytelling of my teacher and the relevant objects and pictures he brought, gave me context and made the location come to life! Many of us understand learning is most successful when connections are made and subjects relate to one another flowing naturally together. It stands to reason then, that studying geography in connection to other subjects will help the content stick.
If you wanted to learn about Mexico, you could read a book and use a map worksheet to label a few key landmarks. Or, you could do some research and a report on the ancient ruins of Chichen Itza with pictures and drawings of the ruins in the Mayan art style. This would include language, writing and research skills with and an art lesson.
What about the studying several active volcanoes in Mexico and finding out how they’ve affected the population when an eruption took place? Subjects covered include: language, research skills, science and history.
For the creative “foodie” who loves experimenting in the kitchen, what better way to learn about Mexico than to prepare a Mexican meal and play Mariachi music while eating it? Bonus points for learning and sharing a few Spanish words while enjoying the meal. Who can forget Mexico after a connection like this?
(Ideas taken from Trail Guide to World Geography.)
Beyond remembering the facts of the ancient ruins, volcanoes, or the food and music of Mexico, imprinted on your young learner’s mind will be the fun they had. Fun motivates and inspires the desire for more learning. Win!
As a new homeschooler many years ago, learning meant sitting down with a pencil and paper and some instructional manual or workbook. I knew that kids liked to have fun but, to me, that was for after school was finished. I’m not faulting or condemning myself or anyone who has this view of learning. But I will say that my view has significantly shifted over the years. My youngest child of four is much more the benefactor of a mom who believes in learning as fun.
For me, the transition was gradual. It took some time to embrace the extra effort of corralling supplies, cleaning up occasional messes or spending a bit more time preparing for a lesson. It also took some learning on my behalf, from others with educational experience and expertise, to understand the importance of having fun when learning.
As I write this, I am adding a few items on my grocery list because my youngest child always chooses to cook when given the opportunity to learn about a new place. I’ll be honest and say that in the past I tried to dissuade my oldest child, who shared the same eagerness.
Tomorrow night will be lamb stew and Irish Soda bread as we learn about Ireland. I am more than happy to oblige by grocery shopping and cleaning up the dishes to experience his joy and partake in an Irish meal.
Another of the many ways to engage in fun with geography is by making a salt dough map. Have you ever tried this? The part of me that doesn’t like messes hesitated a bit the first time I saw the lesson. My initial experience with a salt dough map was when my oldest children were doing Paths of Settlement, the second in the Trail Guide to Learning series. Over the course of the Nation Building Unit, we constructed a 3D salt dough map of North America. I never could have anticipated how much my children and I would learn as we constructed this map!
First, it required lessons in character building for us to attempt something unfamiliar, patiently following directions and giving plenty of space for mistakes. Working with salt dough and making a topographical map can be tricky. But, if you and your child can keep in mind that it’s not meant to be a science but an art, you can have a lot of fun.
Not only is it fun, but constructing the map engages thinking skills and the artistic, right-side of the brain, in a way I had not imagined. Naturally, you’re asking all kinds of questions and interacting with information that you otherwise would not. I loved that part!
Asking questions leads to new questions, discoveries and “Aha” moments such as “how big the land acquired by the Louisiana purchase really was compared to the rest of the United States.” And, “how much higher the land elevation is on the western side of the United States than the eastern side.”
I am now a big proponent of salt dough maps and any activity like it that engages learning so naturally. I encourage you to try one or all of these options to help make geography memorable. If you are like me and sometimes just need to have a list of what to do, then start with the hands-on aspect. Geography Matters offers cookbooks based on US and world geography, sticker books, an international art book, maps, atlases, globes and so much more to assist to you in bringing geography to life. It will stick for your children!
I’m writing this blog post on a day we were scheduled to be at homeschool conventions in Alaska. Alaska!
I’m one of the newest team members of the GeoMatters/Trail Guide to Learning Team, but I’ve been using this curriculum for over a decade and was mentored by one of the authors, Debbie Strayer. Last year was my first time attending the conventions there and my first time in the state of AK. It was a place I had only dreamed of seeing!
Are there places you’ve always dreamed of going but you chalk it up to “just a dream” or an unlikely reality? Alaska did not disappoint. The homeschool moms and families were beautiful people. The endless snow-capped mountains were absolutely stunning. The unique wildlife (so unique to this Florida girl) was unforgettable. When is the last time you had the opportunity to see a whale “breach” or coastal mountains dotted with Bald Eagles? It took my breath away! Needless to say, I feel as if I left a piece of my heart there. Upon leaving last year, I eagerly anticipated my return this April.
I’m sure many of you can relate. You’ve had similar experiences with your vacation plans, your senior’s prom or graduation postponement. My son graduates high school this year. We’re not sure if he will have a graduation ceremony. And, to be honest, we know that those losses are small in the grander scheme and certainly compared to the loss of health and life and economic devastation so many are facing. We have so much to be grateful for!
Alas through the endless cancellations and plethora of disappointments in this season, there have been so many beautiful and truly redemptive stories as well! Not being able to attend a homeschool convention might be a small inconvenience, but yet another challenge in challenging times. Conventions are a source of tremendous support and encouragement on our homeschooling journey. For some, it is a once a year exposure to such support.
Try Before You Buy
We here at GeoMatters, would like to do our small part in easing the hardships. You may not be able to come to our booth and look through the curriculum in person. So we would like to support you with a “Try Before You Buy” offer. With this free download, you’ll receive unit 1 of Paths of Exploration, the older and younger extensions for that unit, as well as any missing assignments from books we publish. We will also have a package with the two readers for just $10 if you’d rather not have to get them elsewhere or from the library. If you’re interested in another level of the Trail Guide series, let us know and we will get you a larger sample to peruse while you contemplate.
Free Curriculum ConsultationNew YouTube Channel
If you’re unsure whether or not this program would be a good fit, or which level you should use, please take advantage of our free curriculum consultations. Simply answer a couple questions so we know how to help and we’ll be in contact shortly with our suggestions.
We have also made some introductory videos available for all of you who are new to Trail Guide to Learning or want to know more about it. These videos will walk you through details that you would have received while speaking with our staff members during conventions. Check them out on our YouTube Channel.
Finally, our team here at GeoMatters would like to extend a discount of 10% off orders over $100. Simply use the coupon code “unconventional” upon checkout. It is our sincere hope that everyone who desires to utilize our curriculum will have the option to do so. From our team to your family, thank you for your continued support!
Actions speak louder than words, don’t they! Someone can tell us all day long the words, “I love you,” but when their actions consistently (not always perfectly) demonstrate love we can know for sure that their words are more than just an empty cliché.
Don’t we all want to be loved that way!
I remember my first introduction by author Debbie Strayer to the Trail Guide to Learning series. I was at our state homeschool convention in Florida totally stressed out about not finding the “right” science curriculum for the following school year.
It was merely hours before the convention hall was closing and I saw Debbie at the GeoMatters booth. Actually, it felt like Debbie saw me! She left the booth as I was walking towards it to come embrace me….I guess I had the look of exhaustion and frustration all over me.
As I briefly explained my dilemma to her, she lovingly asked if I would like to have her explain how the Trail Guide to Learning series could be a potential solution not only to my science debacle but also to my feelings of stress toward homeschooling due to the recent birth of my fourth child.
I remember thinking several things after that meeting.
The first was how nurturing, loving and encouraging Debbie really was for all homeschoolers. I left feeling not only empowered but with curriculum to save me time and invest well in my young children’s hearts. I felt like I had a genuine cheerleader in my corner telling me that I was the best homeschool mom for my kids.
The second thing I learned was how passionate she was to see a practical solution for the already stretched homeschool mom. She could have simply continued to do speaking engagements and homeschool evaluations without adding on the job of writing.
During the month of February, we’d like to express our love to you by offering a 25% discount on any purchases between now and the end of the month. Simply use the code "LOVE25" at checkout.
But instead, she tirelessly and lovingly spent the last years of her life dedicated to creating a curriculum that she felt was needed for many homeschool families. A curriculum that was low on teacher preparation, high in thinking skills, and one that builds a love for learning. Love in action!
I remember getting the opportunity to meet with Debbie a year or two after that convention meeting. She sat down with me during a break at the library when she was writing and preparing one of the subsequent Trail Guides. For a season, the library was where she spent much of her free time writing. I could tell she was tired, yet clearly so full of joy sharing about the book choices and considerations as she wrote the next level—a curriculum put together with every detail included so you can just pick it up from your shelf and teach!
As a matter of fact, I’ve gotten the opportunity to learn about all of the curriculum that GeoMatters sells since I have become a member of the team. As I get to know the authors themselves and listen to their passion, I realize all of the material was thoughtfully and lovingly created.
At GeoMatters, our work and mission flows from a deep place of love and compassion for homeschool families! We are honored to provide services, resources, and curriculum to support and enhance your homeschooling journey.
During the month of February, we’d like to express our love to you, homeschool family, by offering a 25% discount on any purchases between now and the end of the month. Simply use the code "LOVE25" at checkout.
“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
One of the strengths of Trail Guide to Learning is the fact that it is so well laid-out and organized—everything is basically done for you! With that being said, no curriculum will be a perfect fit and we should never be slaves to a curriculum.
Let's face it. We don't always get to all.the.things in our homeschooling. We tend to focus on the "most important" topics, or the topics we can teach well. This usually means that we focus on history, math, science, and language arts. After all, those are the things we're told will serve our children best throughout their life.
A little bit of thought and a touch of planning will have you learning and having fun the entire summer. You may even be ready to take a break and do some math come September.
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3 Tips for a successful homeschool journey can set you on the path to focusing on what really matters in your homeschool -- heart learning.
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Let’s find ways to foster a love of geography in our homeschools that will lead our children to a greater understanding of the world and its people.
Tutoring is a framework for teaching that is based in relationship. It's a beautiful way to not only teach what you want your child to know, but to learn what your child would like to know. It doesn't have to be perfect, you just have to start. Homeschooling works.