Bringing Classical Geography Back to the Classroom
- Friday, July 19, 2013
As a homeschool parent, one of my chief delights is the recovery of lost skills and knowledge. According to national statistics, geography is one of the most neglected subjects in schools today. If your education was like mine, the exposure to countries, capitals, mountains, and rivers was negligible. Years ago, when I began researching the classical model, I discovered how students formerly learned about geography and began to put those methods to use in my own home. Now, many years later, I have refined my understanding of this neglected subject through writing curriculum for homeschool communities and through designing summer training camps for students and parents.
Principle #1: In order to really learn about the globe, students should learn to draw the continents and countries.
In modern classrooms today, teachers distribute photocopied maps for students to label and even offer multiple-choice answers that correspond to letters on a pre-printed map. When students learn geography in this way, the information is stored only in short-term memory. In contrast, consider how students learned geography prior to the invention of the photocopier: Each student in the class received a turn with the geography book. Using a blank piece of paper or a slate, students copied the map they saw in the book and then labeled it.
The first step to learning world geography, then, is to practice cartography, which is the art of drawing maps. This method ensures that students practice the following skills:
1. Proper posture and writing position—Just as with a handwriting lesson, young students will learn to sit still and concentrate. They will also practice holding a pencil correctly.
2. Careful observation—Students who draw a map must pay close attention to the shape of each country and must consider which countries or states share borders.
3. Drawing—Students must focus on replicating the shapes they see on the original map. Thus, students get a lesson in drawing as well as a lesson in geography.
Because students have employed many skills to reproduce a map, they are creating many pathways in their brains for storing and retrieving their geography lessons. With enough practice and repetition, this method ensures that the information will be stored in their long-term memory.
Principle #2: Start with the very first basics of geography—the equator, the great circles, and the continents.
Very young students can begin by learning about how we divide up our globe. To begin, have your child turn an 8½ x 11 sheet of paper so that the long side is at the top (landscape). Then, have him fold the paper in half from top to bottom. The long line across the middle of their page can be traced and labeled as the equator. Students will need to add two lines north of the equator to represent the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle and two lines south of the equator to represent the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle. Repeat this lesson with your family until everyone can complete it quickly and easily.
The next step is to practice adding blobs for each of the seven continents. At this stage, students do not need to worry about replicating the exact shape of each continent. Instead, they should draw large or small circles or ovals to represent each continent. What they should pay attention to is where the continents should be drawn in relation to the great circles they have placed on their map. For example, North America should be drawn so that its top is above the Arctic Circle line on the map and its lower end is below the Tropic of Cancer.
After the continents are on the map, label the oceans. Again, repeat this lesson with your family until everyone can complete it quickly and easily.
After students have mastered the great circles, the continent “blobs,” and the oceans, they are ready to add more detail. Choose one continent at a time and ask students to practice drawing the outline until they can produce a decent approximation of the actual shape. Once each continent outline has been mastered, children can expand their knowledge of that continent. They should learn how to add the borders for countries and to label capitals, mountains, and rivers.1
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