FUN Ways to Teach Geography

My older children are diving into US geography this school year before we transition to American history. They have been having a BLAST learning geography with a hands-on approach. The word FUN does not adequately describe their enthusiasm for this subject area, and I have been pleasantly been surprised about their desire to continue learning long after our daily school time has ended. This is the best place for any mom/teacher to be in teaching- I ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT!

If you have followed my blog for awhile, you already know that I am not a textbook teacher. I used that approach when I was a teacher in a classroom, and I taught geography with a textbook during my first year of homeschooling, but soon the textbook made its way into my trash can. The homeschool textbook was boring with a capital B. My son was not interested in the subject area at all, so I learned creative ways to spice it up over the past 15 years and I haven't used a geography textbook since.

I know I may be breaking the blogging rules with this mega-long post but I am just too excited to share with you all these ideas now rather than break them into a series and drag it out so let's get started.
First, we learned some basic world geography before we began learning about the United States. I believe it is important for children to know where others countries are located in comparison to the US.

Our Leap Frog Explorer interactive globe gets used a lot. My parents bought it as a Christmas gift for my oldest son over 15 years ago, and it is still an invaluable tool that we use frequently in our homeschool lessons. It states interesting facts and plays music from individual countries. I also use it when we are learning about locations in our history and literature studies. My kids will sit for fifteen minutes at a time learning about world geography without any prompting from me. Gotta love it!
We reviewed this lesson on how maps are distorted. I like how that lesson teaches the "why part" of map distortion so kids really get it.

I purchased some placemats like this one for a couple of dollars. I prefer using placemats over standard maps because they last for years without getting wrinkled or torn.

You can also use a dry-erase marker on them to circle and draw lines to bring attention to certain areas.

Call me old-fashioned but I still like to use puzzles for teaching. Children have no idea they are learning and memorizing locations when you use puzzles for geography. My sister, Haleigh, gave this puzzle to my son for a birthday present, and it is a gift that has been used a whole lot.

My kids also like to build floor puzzles, such as this one.

My kids are literally hooked on the 10 Days Geography Games that my great friend, Robin, introduced me to. They beg to play the games at night and on the weekends. Some days the game will be our entire geography lesson. You should see their faces light up when I announce it.

We also play Around the World, which is a game using trivia about countries around the world. It is a bit more challenging, but boy, did we all learn a lot. We play this game as a family and create two teams. That really helps keep the competitive spirit going, and they get so involved in playing the game that they don't realize how many facts they are learning. This is disguising learning at its best!

We learned geography terms by reading this colorful and informative book Geography from A to Z.

We memorized the continents and oceans. We also reviewed map terminology; such as: prime meridian, equator, hemispheres, latitude, longitude, and so on. My kids play this game to practice locating coordinates. Who wouldn't like to pretend they are searching for a treasure?

A few years ago, my kids learned about the different countries by using A Trip Around the World and Another Trip Around the World. I highly recommend these resources! They teach about world geography using fascinating facts, creative art projects, songs, yummy recipes, and more.

If you'd like your child to be able to really relate to how it is to live in other countries, you have to get Children Just Like Me. It is one of my faves! I read it aloud to my kids and discuss the challenges the children in the book have to go through in their countries. This book helps children learn to appreciate how blessed they really are.

I recently purchased Passport to the World at a homeschool expo, and I am excited to read it with my kids.

This book is unique because it's written with a Christian perspective and loaded with Scripture. It also has a passport that comes with the book and children can place stickers on it as they travel the world. Pretty cool!

Passport to the World inspired an idea I had for my homeschool group. My group usually has a geography fair each school year. We also have a Christmas celebration on a different date. This year we will be combining the two events and will be having a "Christmas Around the World" party. I cannot wait! Each child will study a country, including how that country celebrates Christmas. Next, the child will make a presentation board and include any artifacts and art projects from that country. Here is one part the kids will LOVE- they will be making food to share from their particular country.

The children will take turns traveling the globe with their "passports." As they visit each country, they will grab a sample of the food, learn about the country, and get their passports stamped. My kids can't wait to get started learning about their countries. (They just chose them last week.) I will post some photos of the event in December.

Update: The kids LOVED the Christmas Around the World Party. They learned so much about other countries. The parents even learned a whole lot about how other countries influence how we celebrate Christmas here in the US.

HERE is a site to help you get started learning about how other countries celebrate Christmas. HERE are some wonderful printables, including passports for the kids. This is a fantastic way to integrate geography lessons in December.

Tighten your seat belts folks because I am about to take you through a very hands-on approach to teaching the states- here we go!!!

We began our studies with a state quarter map that I almost forgot about until my kids reminded me about it. My oldest son collected quarters from each state as they were released several years ago. He's now twenty years old, and he still holds onto this map as a prized possession. It took him years to fill it, and he'd get elated when he found a state quarter that he had been patiently waiting to add to his map. I thought my other two boys would be okay with skipping this activity but Oh No! They made it perfectly clear to me this month that they want their own state quarter map, and they even added it to their Christmas wish list. When my kids ask for an educational gift over a toy, you can bet that this homeschool momma will be getting them it for Christmas.

For learning geography in a fun and creative way, you have to play The License Plate Game.

Check out this post to learn how to play. It's a whole lot of fun! This game is a cross between a scavenger hunt and a geography game. This year, my boys set a family record. They found all the states in one week (besides Alaska and Hawaii). I was very impressed!

Music makes learning stick so my kids learned the lyrics to the classic Fifty Nifty United States song. This song has been taught in schools for decades, and parents love to use it at home as well. I like using it with children of all ages because it teaches them how to correctly pronounce the states they are learning about.

If you think your child is too young to start learning the names of the states, think again. Check out this video of my sweet friend Annie's little girls singing it. Her youngest daughter was only three! It's just precious.

Of course, we busted out the Ten Days in the USA game since my kids are hooked on it, and they have played it over and over again. Not for a school lesson but for fun. I love it when they are learning just for fun. It makes my role as a teacher so much easier.

Another game we like to play is Snapshots Across America. It is similar to Ten Days in the USA and children take a fantasy vacation throughout the states.

I haven't played the game Mad Dash but I know it is very popular in the homeschool community.

Time for Learning States is a book that I randomly picked up while shopping around at the Cracker Barrel general store- my all-time favorite place to eat. :) What a wonderful book! It's so interactive and has all these really cool push/pull parts. It is not your average book by any means and certainly makes learning about states a whole lot of fun.

After my kids learn details about the states, I have them do a report on their home state. I prefer using My State History Funbooks.

These books use more of a lapbook approach with cutting and pasting, so kids really get involved in creating their books filled with state facts.

We learn about places by taking field trips. My family loves traveling and making learning come to life. Here is a recent field trip with our homeschool friends to Tampa, FL to learn about Florida history and visit a science museum. It was so educational and fun!

After learning about our state's history, I have my kids choose any state they would like to learn more about. They research that state and write a report on it. Next, my kids make a travel brochure for the state and they make an oral, persuasive presentation on why our family should visit it. Who knows? If they get lucky, we may plan a future family vacation there.

HERE are some travel brochure examples that children made.

Photo Credit
Alright, let's start using our children's learning language- technology. My friend, Shannon over at Technology Rocks, compiled two collections of sites HERE and HERE that have her teacher seal of approval to use for teaching geography. My kid's favorite site from this awesome collection is Ameriquake. My boys try to beat each other's times so that makes it a very competitive game. One of my sons can even beat my time!

I was thrilled that the Stack the States app was finally available for my Android, as it was released for iPads and iPhones way before. I kept hearing parents and teachers raving over it and wanted it so badly for my own kids. In fact, it has been voted the best app for kids and won the best iPad app EVER award! If you purchase just one geography app for your phone or tablet, this has to be it! My kids are addicted to the game and ask to play all the time FOR FUN! What could be better than having your two sons flipping a coin to see who can use Mom's phone to learn about geography?

My favorite geography find for this school year is Eat Your Way Through the States. My son found this cookbook at a homeschool convention and since my boys love cooking, I thought we'd give it a try. Boy, I have been impressed but the quality of recipes! Not only are they easy enough for children to make, they are delicious. (Tip: We decided to use state stickers on a chart to keep track of every state we have traveled through as we eat our way through the states.)

My kids are cooking dinner every night, as well as making a dessert,
 that is from a particular certain state. They are LOVING it and so am I- very little cooking for me. I couldn't be happier! Last night, we ate a dinner from Alabama with catfish, black beans southern style, and peanut butter pie for dessert that was to die for!

Since my kids now have a solid foundation of the location of the states and some factual knowledge about each one, it's time for us to take our learning to the next level. This week we will be learning the abbreviations for each state through this dynamite FREE resource. Click HERE to read all about it. There is also a link to a site that children can practice the abbreviations. I will be reviewing those postal abbreviations myself since I occasionally forget some of them when I am mailing letters.

The next step will be to teach my kids the capital of each state. I use some FREE worksheets from to teach those.

In addition, we play the on-line game Where is the Mysterious Mr. N?

Where is the Mysterious Mr. N? is also terrific for older children learning about locations of famous places, such as cities, national monuments, and parks.

Yay! You made it to the end of this l-o-n-g post.☺ I hope you gained a few new ideas on how to make geography FUN for your kids.