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17 September 2015

Growing into Map Work

Growing into Map work: homeschool geography ideas

I love the Story of the World and its Activity Guides, but I've always felt a little bit inadequate with the map work. Maybe because we frequently forget to do it. Maybe because I've always felt like my own geography is barely adequate, and I'm not at all sure what to do about it. Maybe because there are so many intriguing places, but it's not maps that speak to me - it's stories. So that's what we've focused on. But maps are important, too, and I've been realizing that they add to stories, even tell stories of their own, if you just look long enough.

However, figuring out what more there ought to be... that's not easy. Yesterday, I happened across the term "map drills" on the Ambleside Forums. I still have no clue what, exactly, map drills are, but I did find something that's improved our map work. This post has some fantastic ideas. We tried this part today:

Find a map of South Africa in this atlas (student does the work for himself). Look at it closely. I’m going to pass out another map of South Africa as well as two blank maps. Spend some time with the maps: look at the colored, labeled map and spend some time with it. I’m going to pass out a list of features and locations that I want you to pay particular attention to, but notice whatever is of interest to you about the map.” After ~5-10 minutes instruct the student to fill in one of the blank maps, including everything that is on the list as well as anything else of interest to him. After another 5-10 minutes: “Okay. Please stop filling in your map now and let’s talk. Where is South Africa? What countries border it? What rivers do you see? Describe the country. What is the capital? Where is the capital? What mountain ranges do you see? What other geographical areas do you see? What else? What struck you about this map?”

We just read in Story of the World about Catherine the Great, of Russia, so we printed out a map of Russia. Then, I gave Hero our kids' atlas of the world, made sure that he knew how to use the table of contents (and pointed out that, Russia being so large, it's done in two different sections, so make sure to read them both), and walked away. That was hard to do, which is ridiculous. He's growing up, and he's ready. He can read it and then narrate it. But the micro-manager in me is resisting giving him responsibility. He did beautifully. I came back and re-read the post, so I'd know what I wanted to do next. When he was ready, I told him to find some interesting things on the maps, and also St. Petersburg. Then, I had him label those on his blank map. He looked around and colored in the water (I'd had Dragon do that on his, so he could tell it from the countries we were talking about), and colored in Germany (again, part of Dragon's exercise - it's where Princess Sophia came from when she married into becoming Catherine the Great). And he wrote a couple of city names on there, since he thought that the long Russian city names were the most interesting.

4th grade homeschool mapwork
Hero's map.
 Dragon did great with coloring Germany and the Baltic Sea, but when I traced out how big Russia is, he was stunned. And completely uninterested in coloring that whole big thing. Honestly, I can't say that I blame him; it's huge. So we got out a fat marker and drew big stripes. It still makes Russia pop, and emphasizes its bigness. Works for me.

1st grade map work idea
Dragon's map.

Then, we talked about latitude a little, and how we, as close as we are to America's northernmost point, are at about the same latitude as Russia's southernmost area. So we listened to some Russian folksongs, and looked at pictures of Siberia. Siberia boasts the coldest inhabited place on earth. There's some pretty fantastic pictures. But they do, in fact, have summertime. Looking at our globe, I also realized that basically the whole of the Asian portion of Russia is Siberia - it's huge! Much bigger than I had realized. (I love that I get to learn with the kids.)

I'm still interested in learning about what these mysterious "map drills" are, but in the mean time, we had a good time learning about Russia. I really like doing the map work as its own section, rather than thinking of it as a history add-on. At the end of the work, Hero and I talked about it and agreed like we both felt that this was more effective than what we've done previously. Hero had already read a book of Russian fairy tales, and now he's got not only the history that we've been reading, but also a sampling of their traditional music and a better idea where they were in the world. Dragon also got a lot of the same, though at a less in-depth level, which is fine, since he's 5. At the end, they both have maps to file away to help them remember the work they did. Not too shabby.

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