Geography these days is a study of other cultures and social differences, as well as the study of geology and weather. Primary school geography deals with environmental issues too. For instance: seeing how land erodes, understanding the water cycle and weather pattern. It also includes learning to read maps, and comparing other countries and cultures with ones’ own.
If you have moved abroad, you have an immediate geography topic around you. Talk with your children about the differences you see, and also similarities with your own culture. If you have friends abroad, you could write (or email) to them. Ask questions, learn about recent developments, the kinds of produce that’s grown and local customs.
On a short holiday in your own country or abroad, there will be opportunities to talk about how different people live. You could discuss in advance what cultural differences you might expect to find. That’s not to say that you need to talk about educational topics all the time! But in the course of everyday discussion, issues of this sort may well arise. Most families, home educating or not, will take day trips or make visits to relatives or friends. As you visit small villages or large towns, have a look at museums or ancient ruins. Even supermarkets abroad can be a source of education, as you search for familiar or local produce.
Even if you rarely stir outside your own local environment, you can encourage your children to have an interest in the wider world. There are some excellent television documentaries about other countries, and many useful resources you can buy, or perhaps borrow from your library.
When we home educated, we used encyclopedias, both in book form and on CDs. Nowadays the Internet has replaced both, and it is easy to find articles about other countries. However, we always liked having good world atlas to browse through. Local maps may be of interest too, although GPS applications have become more popular. A globe can be helpful for seeing the overall shape and size of the world and the different continents. With an atlas, or website, it is hard to realise just how much sea there is. It is also not obvious how large the world is compared to our own local environment. Children often ask questions about countries they have seen in TV documentaries or heard about on the news. You can look for these places on the globe, or online, and learn about them together as soon as the child expresses interest.
There are many web sites which allow you to see up-to-date views of the world, and to explore various aspects of geography. See my geography resources page for some recommendations to useful sites.
Skills rather than topics
Teaching your children the skills to do their own geography research is more important than the specific topics they are studying. Try to ensure that they cover a wide variety of different cultures, and understand that there is no ‘best’ or ‘worst’ country or culture. Moreover, some customs which seem odd to us are taken for granted elsewhere. If you live somewhere which has people from many different cultures, try and get to know some of them. It can be interesting and educational to chat about different foods, styles of dress, and cultural expectations.
You can help your children understand maps as soon as they start to read. If you point out your road on a local map, and places of interest, then you may find them following maps in the car. This is much pleasanter than children continually asking when you will arrive! Help them to understand the concepts of keys and scale, and give them appropriate maps to follow whenever you travel. Board games like Risk can give a general idea of world geography, and there are online games which give the player a chance to simulate different environments and explore what happens under different conditions.
If you want to use textbooks, a series we found useful for the older primary years (approx age 7-11) is the ‘World Watch’ series published by Collins Educational. This provides a progressive scheme covering physical, human and environmental geography. It has excellent photographs, and various ‘things to do’. We found that these books encouraged our sons to research more into the topics and to understand maps and diagrams.
Geography at secondary level
If your child is interested in the topic, and particularly if he or she is considering taking GCSE geography at some stage, you may want to follow one of the Key Stage 3 geography courses. These cover basic skills and understanding of National Curriculum topics. An interesting and thorough course which we used, in a low-key way, is the Heinemann ‘Geography in Action’ series.
There are many other key stage 3 geography study guides. They all give an overview and description of topics covered in schools. Some are intended as supplements to school geography lessons, but you can use most of them at home. It’s worth browsing in your local bookshop to see which ones seem attractive to you and your children. Different books suit different learning styles.
GCSE and beyond
A child who enjoys geography may wish to consider taking a GCSE. An excellent text book which covers much of the GCSE work in all boards is David Waugh’s key stage 4 geography. However you need to find out what topics are covered in each board for special study.
A geography GCSE may be possible at a local college or adult education classes. Alternatively you may want to check my GCSE page for possible courses by correspondence. Geography is a good subject to study at home, as the student can explore topics of interest in greater depth than would be possible in a group environment. The GCSE-exams-alternatives list at yahoogroups is a useful resource for advice, and suggestions for where your child might be able to take an exam.