When a country makes the news, can you picture its location in your mind? Are places in a book just a name? And most importantly, do you want the same for your kids or better? Since we encounter geography every day, let’s learn it in a way that actually means something so it will stick!
With two teacher parents, my brother and I got to travel and spend summers exploring the United States. I specifically remember my mom passing me the US map book from her seat up front and telling me I should learn some capitals. Louisiana. Baton Rouge. “Big stick” in French. That’s the one I remembered, but I did so because there was context and a memory. Everything else I learned was from travel and real-world exposure. All that school stuff? Nope.
I feel like it’s easy to get overwhelmed with planning and thinking about geography for your homeschool or public school supplement. Which curriculum is best? And all the self- published options by some amazing homeschool families are always so tempting! So if you’re like me, you see all the options, but it’s easier to just not do anything because what if you get the wrong version?! The fear of imperfection keeps us from even starting.
Affiliate disclosure: As an Amazon affiliate, I may earn commissions from qualifying purchases through Amazon.com. These are my go-to books (or very similar); no faking here.
Real people. Real places. Real stories. So much better than dry facts. With great restraint, I have held off on purchasing most options other than some great books that we use as our core!
These are some great non-textbooks I love to use with the kids to show them the world and are fantastic books that will all last you all your years teaching your kids. While the kids are young, you can read to them and show them the places you discuss on the map. When they’re older, these books are a great option for doing research and looking over all the statistics. There’s no outgrowing them!
by Peter Menzel, Charles C. Mann; Counterpoint Press, 1994
“But showing only the best and the worse provides just one small part of the world pictures. I wanted to give some insight into the rest of the world… We all have an understanding of what our own lives are like, but even as the countries of the world become more interconnected, we know very little about the lives of other people in other societies. What better way to begin to understand than to show average family life around the world and to base that examination around a unique photograph of a family with all its possessions outside its dwelling?”
Although this book is outdated, it is one of the best irregardless. In this book, the author and a team of photojournalists travel around the world taking pictures of average families in countries all over the world. The selected families all bring their worldly possessions out in front of their dwelling to be photographed and have allowed their family’s story to be told. In addition to the stats offered of each country, there is information about their jobs, hobbies, and world. The insights this coffee-table sized book gives into the different cultures are unmatched.
Pick a country or continent and read and discuss. Compare the families to others that you have learned about. Make sure you look over the graphs and statistics in the back of the book. Use this as a launching pad to discuss new terms like literacy rate, infant mortality, life expectancy, population doubling time, and per capita income. There’s even a page comparing different bathrooms around the world.
Peter Menzel, Faith D’Alusio; Material World Books, 2005
Similar to Material World, Peter Menzel in this book travels the world again, but instead of looking at belongings, he focuses on what each family eats in a week. He meets with an individual family in a country, introduces the family, and tells some about their culture. As each country is about six to eight full-spread pages, there’s so much information!
Each family is shown with all the food they will buy for the week – garden-fresh vegetables, rations from their refugee camp, family-raised meat, or packages from the grocery story. It’s a great way to see into different lives and even includes a percentage of their income they spend on each kind of food.
Again, don’t miss out on the data in back of the book. Learn about access to safe water, safe sanitation, and health care expenditures while looking at rates of obesity, diabetes, alcohol consumption, and number of McDonalds. While this isn’t the most uptodate information, it’s still a great way to compare the countries as they ranked when it was written in 2005… Do some extra reserach to compare how it has changed with today as the world ranking of these countries has changed as well. Truly fascinating.
Editors Jason Mandryk and Molly Wall; InterVarsity Books, 2018
Published by a Christian company, this book has a two page, full-color spread on countries and people groups from around the world. There are facts, stories about real people, and the hardships that they and their people face from persecution for their beliefs. Each country is introduced with data and history which is a great tie in for your other geography studies, but then it takes a personal, religious dive giving specific things to pray for that country. This is a great way to introduce world religion into your learning in a way that most geography books will not.
Get a good book list to lead you to some beautiful picture books. These will open your family to relating not just country facts but the stories. The nonfiction stories and biographies will serve as reminders of the real people who lived in that place and their history. The country name will be for people. Not to mention, it’s a lot easier to remember the story of the kid on the bike who went around Africa or about the boys who fled their country after their parents were attacked.
Real. Living stories.
Find some good websites, do a Google or Pinterest search, and start making a library list. My favorite method is simply to search for a country on the library search engine. I do avoid all the “school” looking books with the dry facts and boring pictures. Give me the beautifully illustrated picture books from the biography section anytime.
Jamie C. Martin; Zondervan, 2016
This is the top recommended book in the homeschool circle. The book is broken up into continents which is then further subdivided by book audience. start at the beginning of the chapter to find books for younger audience by the country then keep flipping on to find books for your older kids. My only complaint about this book is that I do wish it were organized merely by country, but this is an excellent jumping off place!
and if you still think you need a textbook, try…
Gillian Doherty, Anna Claybourne, and Susan Davidson; Educational Development Corporation, 2010
Usborne non-fiction books are beautiful and lovely. If you’re invited to an Usborne Book party, stock up or buy it from your friend who is an Usborne seller, but if you can’t, they’re available on Amazon.
This internet linked thick textbook, discusses one or two pages at a time, easily understood geography topics. Starting with the broad picture of our planet, it takes you through major geographic land differences and ecology, discusses each continents mail people and culture features with beautiful color pictures, and includes maps of all the areas. This is a great resouce for further research on the places discussed in the books above.
During our nine years using Classical Conversations as the foundation for our homeschool curriculum, geography is memorized on a weekly basis as we learn to locate places on the map. Because of this, we always have maps out for coloring or referencing as we read through events and stories from around the world. We have a wall map in most rooms of our house including the four kid bedrooms. Do all homeschoolers, or are we just really weird?!
You can’t make geography a living and active part of your family learning life if you don’t have maps. And lots of them where you look at them often. Make them a part of your decor. Print off outline maps and have the kids color them in while you read. Open an atlas and trace country shapes with tracing paper. Put together a puzzle. Draw a map of your part of the world. Make it fun and memorable.
Eatsleepdoodle World Map – This fabric tablecloth-size world outline map comes complete with markers. Let the kids roll it out and color while you read some books.
World Shower Curtain – One of my all-time best homeschool purchases that we use almost every day! Some people would hang this on the shower, but we have ours in front of the windows where we sit for schoolwork (sometimes). We reference it daily, and because it’s vinyl, we can write on it with a dry erase marker if we need to track something. We love this map!
Usborne Animals of the World Map Puzzle – Puzzles are a great way to get kids familiar with their world. Mine love to pull out this puzzle and some others to work on when we’re reading around the table at morning time.
Classical Conversations Geography Placemats – These durable, laminated maps allow for memory work review while tracing either with a dry erase marker or on tracing paper. Available for each of the three memory work cycles, grab which one you need.
If you have one of those awesome wall maps that magically make flip to different maps? You are a rockstar geography teacher, and I’m jealous.
Bonus: Digital Games in Your Pocket
Seterra – Free online map or phone app game for all continent and country maps, flags, rivers, landmarks, and more than you could do. It teaches you and the kids what they need to know and quizzes in an addictive way. You’ll find yourself playing it as much as the kids. Also check out their free printable through the website.
Globle – This web-based game is different daily as you play hot-and-cold with a different mystery country. You will be forced to recall countries around the world as you try to get closer to figure it out. This is for more experienced geographers who already are familiar with their countries.
Geography should be more than coloring a map and regurgitating a country name for a test. Learn and dump. Our world is so much more than those boring textbooks and recitation! Pair some amazing books and lots of real-world adventuring with discussion. Add in some fun learning with TV schooling. Geography is everywhere.