How to Teach Geography

One of the main reasons we wrote the Layers of Learning homeschool curriculum was because geography is the poor forgotten third cousin in the world of education, even in homeschooling.  There was no orderly, comprehensive geography curriculum or series that we could find.


For years I had searched for a curriculum or series of workbooks or guide or ANYTHING that would cover geography concepts, maps, cultures, physical geography, and the fifty US states in an orderly manner.  If possible I wanted such a curriculum to go from 1st grade to 12th grade with increasing difficulty and thoroughness for my growing kids.  I could find books of maps, cookbooks for food around the world, individual books on countries and states, workbooks on geography skills like reading a map, but absolutely nothing that synthesized these topics into a cohesive and orderly whole — Nothing that helped me organize it and make sure my kids were getting geography concepts they needed to learn to understand their world.

Dang it.  I would have to write it.  But first I would have to get my brain around what  geography studies should include.  Then I hoped a natural order would emerge, the way history is naturally taught chronologically or science is naturally taught topically.

Skills and Topics To Cover In A Geography Curriculum

Here’s what I learned.  Geography should cover these skills and topics:

  • map reading (latitude and longitude, symbols, grids, etc)
  • map making (projections, measuring, cartography)
  • physical geography (landforms and so on)
  • country studies (location, major cities, culture, demographics, governments)
  • Your Own Country in detail

Originally when we had envisioned Layers of Learning it was as a vast unit study program with the History, Science, Geography and Arts all intertwined and supporting one another.  In practical terms when we began to organize and write the units we found that if we used history as the backbone we would be studying the British Isles about fifteen times in Geography and never Angola and not enough attention would be paid to geography skills.  As for science, the whole integration with history thing fell apart very quickly.  Just how many times can you study the science of basic machines or astronomy during the ancient history year to the exclusion of all else?  And if we suddenly began to study atomic theory when discussing WWII our poor little students would be hopelessly lost.  It simply doesn’t work if your goal is systematic, orderly, thorough coverage of basic topics.

How To Organize A Geography Study

As for geography we decided it needed to be divided up.  The first year would be skills and concepts like how to read a map, how longitude and latitude work, how to use the index of an atlas, how to draw your own map, identification of landform types, and studies of various biomes.  And also we would do an overview of each continent on earth.

The second and third years would be in depth looks at countries around the globe.  We took pains to make sure we focused on culture, religion, government, demographics, landscape, a little bit of modern history, and of course the locations of these countries.  Often the country being studied does coordinate with the history units, but not always, because if it did, like I said, we would be studying Great Britain fifteen times.  We also worked hard to be sure that even though not every country is highlighted, there is a broad representation from all over the planet.  We don’t ignore the South Seas or Africa or Southeast Asia even though they’re not in the news as often as France or China.  Every Geography unit includes a blank outline map to color as well as all the craft, recipe, and activity ideas.  The map activities reinforce the concepts learned in Year One as kids use latitude and longitude, find places in an atlas, color rain fall distribution or religion distribution maps, make maps that show the landforms in a country and so on.

Year Four goes in depth to studying the United States and each of the Fifty States, with maps to color, recipes, crafts, and activities just like the country studies in Years Two and Three.  The last two units in Year Four are reserved for a close up look at your state.  Most states require a course on the history and geography of your state and this meets that need with a big portfolio project.

So here it is in a nut shell.

Year One: Geography concepts, continents, and biomes at elementary, middle school or high school level

Year Two: Countries around the world, being sure to touch on location, culture, brief history, government, current events, and reviewing the concepts from year one on your child’s level.

Year Three: More countries around the world.

Year Four: The fifty US States (or your home country).

Then, like the rest of the Layers of Learning Homeschool Curriculum, the whole thing repeats.  Your child is four years older and can read more, do more complicated maps, learn more in depth concepts, try out activities you didn’t have time for last time around, and get an excellent review on a whole new level.

That’s what we created.  All of that synthesized into a whole in a program you can use with all of your kids at once, no matter their age or ability level.

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