Whenever you are deciding how to approach an area of study, it helps to think through your goals. When teaching geography, my own goals have very little to do with memorizing the names of countries and what they import or export. For me, it all begins with helping children develop a sense of adventure.
When my youngest son, Steve, was about 13, we traveled from Georgia to California by car. It was just the two of us, camping all the way. From Georgia to Fort Worth, Texas, I was on familiar ground and was completely within my comfort zone. However, heading out of Fort Worth, preparing to cross the desert for the very first time, I fully expected Apaches to come swarming out of the hills, due to a penchant for cowboy movies during my childhood. I was scared, but I went anyway, and was I glad I did!
That trip taught both my son and me more about geography than we could have learned from a hundred unit studies. One night we camped beside a stream in Mississippi. It didn’t rain a drop, but it was so humid that all of our bedding was soaked when we woke up in the morning. Two nights later, up in the high country of New Mexico, it rained hard in the middle of the night and never even made it through the screened top of our tent!
In Arizona, I marveled at the way you could see three entire trains in one vista. In Georgia, you can see only about twenty cars at a time, since the mountains and bends in the tracks block the view. As we passed through the Sierra Nevadas, we thought of the story The Incredible Journey, where the dogs and the cat struggled to make it through the mountains back to civilization. On reaching the Pacific Ocean, coming down through Topanga Canyon toward the beach at Malibu, we talked about the Lewis and Clark expedition and marveled at our first look at the Pacific Ocean.
Even in your own little area of the world, there are plenty of places to go. The best study of geography and history always comes from firsthand experiences. The second best, of course, is through vicarious experiences, such as travel videos, good books, and biographies of people from other times and other lands.
One of the reasons my own daughter went off to Asia at the young age of 20 was because she had been influenced by missionary biographies she had read. We had learned about David Livingstone, Hudson Taylor, Gladys Aylward, Corrie Ten Boom, and Jim Elliot. It is important, though, when dealing with children younger than 12, to avoid focusing on the horrible aspects of their experiences, such as the martyrdom of Jim Elliot and Nate Saint in the Ecuadorian jungle. That type of study is better delayed until students are ready to understand the depth of spiritual commitment that underscores the experiences of such men.
That’s why I’ve always believed in incorporating a study of comparative religions and cultures with our study of geography during a student’s early teen years. By this age, children are not only capable of abstract reasoning, they tend to thrive on it! They love to learn about other ways of thinking, to examine the logic behind other systems of religions, and to begin to deepen their understanding of their own faith.
For many years, our organization ran a resource center in the Atlanta area. All of the social studies classes we taught were also thinly disguised speech classes. In seventh grade, we began by having students do group projects. As we studied an area in our “World Geography and Missions” class, we would also study the indigenous religions and culture and the lives of any missionaries who worked in that part of the world. For example, as we learned about India, we studied Hinduism and also learned about the work of Amy Carmichael. We studied the basic beliefs of both the Hebrew faith and the Islamic religion when we learned about the Middle East and tried to understand the roots of the conflict there, which can be traced all the way back to the story of Sarah and Hagar.
We studied Shintoism as we learned about Japan, and we discovered how the belief systems of the young Japanese Kamikaze pilots in World War II were rooted in their views of the afterlife. We studied Buddhism when learning about Southeast Asia and tied it into a study of the architecture of their beautiful temples.
As the students reached ninth grade, they began giving individual talks. We let them choose their own topics so that they would be interested in the material, which helped ease their initial fear of public speaking. We told those who were still scared, “Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain!” By the time they were seniors, these students were teaching an entire sixty-minute class twice a year.
Our center closed its doors about five years ago, and most of those young people have finished college. Many of them have contacted me to tell me that these classes helped prepare them for college and life...classes that stimulated their thinking, encouraged the development of a desire to reach the world for Jesus, and also taught them valuable speaking skills.
But be careful! My kids have now been to China, Thailand, Greece, Korea, England, Italy, and other countries whose names I can’t even pronounce! I miss them desperately, but at least they are forcing me to become a world traveler too! This year my schedule includes a trip to England for my daughter’s wedding and a trip to Germany with my son. So hop in the car and start your own journeys! That’s the beauty of homeschooling—you can take your studies with you wherever you go!
Mary Hood, Ph.D., and her husband, Roy, homeschooled their five children since the early 1980s. All have successfully made the transition to adulthood. Mary has a Ph.D. in education and is the director of ARCHERS for the Lord, Inc. (The Association of Relaxed Christian Home Educators). She is the author of The Relaxed Home School, The Joyful Home Schooler, and other books, and is available for speaking engagements. Contact her via her website, www.archersforthelord.org.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.
Publication date: December 20, 2013