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My children are young (pre-K through 2nd grade), so teaching them the basics of geography is tough. At this young age, my daily homeschool focus is reading, writing, and arithmetic and there isn’t extra time for fussy geography lessons. However, both my kids and I really enjoy our geography time so I realize that if I want to fit a little geography into the week, it must be simple and flexible.
So, when a pocket of time becomes available, whether fifteen minutes or an hour, I consider a no-fuss, no-prep geography activity. I like these activities because they can be scaled up for older students or scaled down for littles. For older children, an activity can always extend to map drawing or copy work. The activities can also be kept short, only fifteen minutes, or extended to fill an hour.
I have listed my favorite 8 no-fuss, no-prep activities below and I hope you try some yourself:
Not long ago, my grandmother gave me a bag of foreign currency (and a few old bus tokens). On occasion, I empty it onto the table and it keeps us busy. We compare/contrast American money with foreign money. Most foreign bills have a person’s portrait on one side and the denomination in the corner. Also, coins often have a portrait on one side and an animal or plant on the other. This leads to natural conversations and questions. Why does New Zealand’s coin have a funny bird? Why does Mexico’s coin have an eagle with a snake in its mouth? We also play eye-spy and draw the coins. Last time, I asked the children to design their own coins. If you don’t have a well traveled grandmother to hand you a bag of currency, there’s always Amazon. They sell bags of foreign coins and foreign bills.
This is an easy activity because you only need the clothes (or pajamas) on your back. Explain that clothing tags list the country of origin and ask them to guess the country from which most their clothing is made. Then, enjoy the surprise when they read the tags and learn how far their clothing has travelled. Personally, I’m usually surprised too. I did this a few weeks ago and my children’s clothing represented four continents! To extend the activity, color the countries on a map and draw lines to show how the clothing may have travelled. This lesson can also include a conversation or study of economic principles like globalization, international trade, competitive advantage.
Instead of looking at clothing labels, grab fruits and veggies from the kitchen and look at the stickers. Produce labels will naturally lead to conversations about growing seasons and climate. Here is an opportunity to use the globe and review how the earth’s tilt creates seasons. In the winter, for example, summer-season foods, like cherries, have to be imported from the southern hemisphere. Also, some produce, like bananas, require a very specific climate to grow, so those are imported from close to the equator.
The world section of the newspaper is always available and it changes everyday, so it’s a perfect resource for an off-the-cuff geography lesson. I don’t subscribe to a paper newspaper, but I do browse BBC World News. This online paper also organizes news by continents, so it’s easy to find something that interests your students. My children are young, so this option is not the best fit for them. However, we do have a neighbor friend from Cameroon, so the kids and I will use this site to keep up with the humanitarian crisis happening over there.
Old Family Photos or Stories
If you come across old photos, call the kids over and share a little family history. If you only know a little, you can show your family’s movement on a US map. Use a world map if you can trace your family’s movements to other continents. This is a good time to talk about immigration, in general. When I share old family photos with my children, we find a link to another part of the world and then a find a child close to that region in UNICEF’s Children Just Like Me. My kids love to think about what their life would be like if our family hadn’t immigrated.
Geography Learning Songs
Geography learning songs are amazing! When I want to touch on geography, but I don’t have a lesson plan prepared I know I can play the Geography Songs for Everyone YouTube channel through my television. It’s so delightfully simple. The maps and lyrics fill the screen and the children sing along. There are many ways to use the songs to expand geography lessons, but you can also use the songs on their own.
Today, cars are made all over the world, but each car manufacturer has roots in a particular region. Take the kids outside and take note of the cars on the street, driving by, or in your driveway. Then, use the globe to identify the country from which the car is from. They will quickly notice a pattern – East Asia, Western Europe, and US make most of the cars. This may lead to conversations about industrialized nations.
Foreign Food Aisle
Turn a quick trip to the grocery store into a geography lesson. Not only could you browse the produce aisle to find the fruit or veggie that travelled the farthest to get there, but walk through the foreign food aisle. Its contents will vary where you live depending on your population, but it will stir a host of questions and curiosities. Select a few items to take home, identify its food group, taste it, and locate its origin on a map. The makers of Children Just Like Me, recently made Food Like Mine. If the foreign food aisle is a favorite in your home, you would enjoy this book.