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Why Teach Geography?

© Beverley Paine, August 2007

[this article forms part of a series on Geography you can buy as a Practical Homeschooling booklet from Always Learning Books]

Geography was my favourite subject at high school. Although we didn't study geography as a separate subject I know I loved it in primary school as well - it came a clear second after English. Looking back it's easy to see that my parents were the ones that first fostered and encouraged this love of geography, from a very early age.

At the age of four my parents brought me half-way around the world to live in Australia. It's hard to know what impact this move had on me as my memories of Engand adn the voyage - a one month boat trip - are hazy, but I can imagine... Family slide shows of exotic places and animals enhanced the experience for years. And our family caught the travelling bug: it wasn't long before Dad had bought a car and we were trekking off on family holidays, pitching our tent in many places around Australia.

Dad brought home a new hobby too, one that infected the rest of us with his zeal. I grew up collecting rocks and minerals, cutting and polishing gem stones. Learning about how and why these formed, and where to find them, what they were made of, their properties - this formed the basis of my love of science as well as geography.

Another reason I was drawn to geography was because it answers so many of the questions I had about why people live where they do, why they do what they do where they live, where resources such as food and building materials come from - questions that seemed to stem from an unstoppable curiosity.

I recently read that geography stimulate children's interest in their surroundings and in the variety of human and physical conditions on the Earth's surface - but I'd say that most children already have this curiosity burning in their veins. It's part of the body of knowledge we need to know as we grow up. Throughout early childhood we pester our parents and anyone willing to listen with endless questions about our surroundings, asking "why" and "how", or silently pondering and coming up with our own inventive answers.

As parents we're able to foster our children's natural sense of wonder at the beauty of the world around them. That's easy, especially if we aren't dulled to that wonder ourselves. I live in awe of the magesty of nature and the natural world. But I'm also amazed at what humanity has achieved - both in a positive and negative sense. There is beauty to behold as well as tradegy in the human created world, and many lessons to learn from both. The study of geography helps us to learn those lessons.

We can help our children develop their natural concern about the quality of the environment. This is essential for the future of the human species, as well as all other living species. It's easy to forget that life is interdependent. The study of geography helps us to understand how life is dependent on the planet: it's water, landforms, oceans, climate, and the various geological processes at work.

In this way we help enhance our children's sense of responsibility for the care of the planet Earth, its environments and its people. Responsibility grows gradually and begins in a small, family and child-centred way, expanding to the local community and environment and finally embracing the whole world.

Children generally learn what adults around them value. Children who grow up around maps and atlases are more likely to get the 'map habit' than those who do not. Our atlas and globe lived in our living room and were frequently used to locate places we heard on the news, or read about in books. They were like the dictionary - indispensible and used for many reasons. Although I rarely asked the children to do geography worksheets or assignments they grew up with a good working knowledge of how to find any city, region, country or place in the world. They had, through simple habits, framed their own mental maps of the world that served not only to organize in their minds the peoples, places, and things they see and hear about in the news, but also to suggest why certain events unfold in particular places.

How does this geographical awareness and knowledge help them in their adult lives? It helps them become politically aware individuals, capable of rationally and intelligently processing information and making decisions that will effect not only their lives but the lives of others, sometimes in distant countries. It will also help them make appropriate choices about resources and consumption. Although they may not need to use geographical skills directly in their chosen careers they will find them a valuable asset, making progress easier and more satisfying.

Understanding about the physical location of a place, the character of a place, relationships between places, movement of people and things, and the phenomena that cause us to group places into particular regions empower people throughout their lives. Thinking geographically is akin to thinking scientifically: we ask and pose questions, observe and appreciate the world, learn how to use our minds and other tools to help us move about in the world, making wise decisions about our environment and how to relate to other people in our community and from other cultures.

We can help our children learn geography by thinking geographically ourselves, but staying in tune with the wonder and awe of the world. We can offer them interesting activities and answer and encourage their questions. We don't have to know everything ourselves: modelling an inquiring mind is the best way to develop this trait in our youngsters.

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Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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