5 hands-on ways to homeschool Geography

homeschool geography | hands-on ideas for busy learners

It’s sometimes hard to engage our busy learners in the study of facts. So many of the traditional methods of teaching a subject are just not a good fit for our movers and shakers. Thankfully, geography is one of those subject areas that lends itself to a lot of variety and hands-on fun. There are so many ways to teach geography in your homeschool, but here are five of my favorite ways to teach geography to my busy learners.

5 hands-on ways to homeschool geography

 

Create Clay, Salt Dough, or Cookie maps. We homeschool geography in a variety of ways, but getting our hands dirty with clay or dough is always a sure winner for my active, creative ADHD kiddos. When we studied Egypt, we took sugar cookie dough and sculpted the country of Egypt, complete with a frosted Nile and colored sugar sprinkle dessert. (This was pre-ADHD diet, but something that could be easily modified for food sensitivities.)

Eating Egypt | teaching geography in homeschool | hands-on geography

Six years later, we still love to create maps this way. This year, we began our geography by sculpting imaginary lands and geographic features in clay. I handed them my Geography from A to Z picture glossary, let them choose their favorites and include them in a map of an imaginary world, and then create that world out of clay.

homeschool first day | hands-on geography

 

homeschool geography to hands-on learners

Read Living Books. Reading about places around the world and connecting a story to a place is a powerful way to homeschool geography. Read about children, animals, or fairy tales from around the world. For instance, for one unit study early on in our adventure, we read the children’s adapted version of Around the World in 80 Days and followed our read-aloud on our map. How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World is another fun book that teaches geography with ingredients and a recipe!

Another of our favorites are the Legends and Leagues series. I usually start my kids in the original series in first grade, when they are old enough to read fairly well independently. The other Legends and Leagues books (North, South, East, and West) I usually assign a couple each year. These geography living books are silly, funny, and engaging. If your child likes Life of Fred math, he will enjoy Legends and Leagues.

Sharpen Map Skills by Drawing.  Instead of the facts of where a country is located, have your child learn the skills of map reading and map making by drawing his own— of his bedroom, of your neighborhood, of a trip to the park. Depending on your child’s age and ability, have him complete the activity with map keys, compass rose, or grid locations. 

Get hands-on with maps (literally). Rather than a map on the wall, I’ve opted for some more hands-on map variations through the years. One year, I printed an enlarged map that we’d been studying and glued it to a poster board, allowing my son to both color the map and then enact the story of Hannibal with his toy soldiers on our enlarged map.

hands-on geography

We’ve done the beach-ball globe for quite awhile, which my kids have loved to toss around as well as look up countries we are reading about. And just last year, we added our new favorite, the scrunch map. This map is such an unusual texture. The kids love to spread it out on the floor, laying all over it to find what they are looking for. And equally as much fun is wadding the map back up and scrunching it back into it’s little bag. My kids are literally all over a map, and this close up sensory exploration fuels their love for learning geography.

Pray around the World. A simple way to homeschool geography is through praying for the world. Unreached people groups, current events, persecuted Christians—there are so many opportunities for our children to learn about the world around them through prayer. One of my favorite activities with my kids is to get out our scrunch map and have them pray for a country with their fingers on the location. Adding that little bit of extra sensory input really helps to engage my busy kiddos. We read about the country, about the people, about their struggles, and then all together touch the country on our map and pray for it. 

Geography is a fantastic way for your hands-on learner to explore all of their world with all of their senses. Let them read, imagine, and create. Let them use their imagination to better understand the real world, every feature of it. And as they gain a love and appreciation for their world, they will also be fueled by a desire to discover more about that world.

When your child needs a brain break

homeschool brain break | Ultimate Guide to Brain Breaks review

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My kids have energy. Energy that doesn’t wait for a math lesson to end or a school day to be over. My kids move (and talk) all day long. And even when I’m following my cardinal rule of “short lessons,” I can still see their minds straining to focus at the task when all their body wants to do is move. It’s part of being a kid, but it’s even more a part of being a kid with ADHD. And for my daughter with both ADHD and dyslexia, the effort to focus all of that energy on the task of processing information leaves her wilting beside me on the couch. Until I say those magic words…”Brain Break!”

 

homeschool brain break

This summer, we picked up the Ultimate Guide to Brain Breaks (aff. link) at a homeschool convention, and already it’s been a huge life-saver in our homeschool. My kids love it, and I love having a variety of creative ideas that I didn’t have to come up with on my own. I used to have my kids do jumping jacks, plank, or do push-ups. Now, they “jump the river,” “tiptoe-heel race,” “climb a mountain,” act out a caterpillar turning into a butterfly or a seed sprouting from the ground.

I’ll see one child slinking in his seat after a challenging assignment and call out “brain break,” and kids come charging in from every corner of the house. (At least, it sounds like it. My three can easily sound like 14 kids stampeding through the house.) The child upstairs, the child in the next room, and the child beside me on the couch all rush to our brain break jar and huddle around to see what fun is up next. My 6th grader, 4th grader, and kindergartener all love these brain break ideas.

It only takes a couple of minutes, but oh what a difference those couple of minutes make! I’ve noticed, too, that these are great mood-changers. When one of my kids is in “a mood” about school, a couple of brain breaks usually helps her turn a corner and happily proceed to the next task. There aren’t many “miracle” products in homeschool, but I consider this to be one for us.

Could you make your own version instead of buying the product? Sure. There are a number of ideas on Pinterest. But I love how easy this product is to use. If I waited until I could find, print, and make my own, we’d still be doing jumping jacks. The ideas and explanations for those ideas are all ready for us. The $15 print-edition of the Ultimate Guide to Brain Breaks are on thick glossy card stock, and all I had to do was cut them out and choose a jar. But you could also choose to print and laminate the ebook version for $10.
Ultimate Guide to Brain Breaks

If you have an active or distracted learner, take a look at the Ultimate Guide to Brain Breaks (aff. link). It’s a simple, fun solution to jump start your busy learners.

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Homeschooling through a Rough Start

rough start to homeschool | homeschooling rough starts and failures

In spite of well-laid plans and brand new supplies, the beginning of each new homeschool year seems to bring it’s own unique challenges. Ours is no exception. Our first year of homeschooling, I shut the whole thing down after our first month to revamp everything that wasn’t working. One year, everyone caught the flu on “start week.” Another year, we moved across country, arriving in our new home in September. With all of these challenges and changes, both good and bad, I’ve learned that there is something to say for “soft starts” to a new year and easing in. There’s also nothing wrong with homeschooling through a rough start.

Because we have a few of those unique challenges this year as well, I started a couple of weeks earlier than normal to allow ourselves the opportunity to ease in and break for life’s surprises. Our first day was beautiful! The picture-perfect day of happy kids elbow-deep in clay and learning.

homeschool first day

The next day, I went head-to-head with one of my kiddos, repeating for the millionth time that conversation of “it’s against the law for you to not do school, so you better work with me here.” Day three was somewhat better, and the week slowly improved. Our second week has been up and down as well, and I’ve already decided our math curriculum might not be working out. We’re off and running to our usual rough start.

But experience has shown me, we will get through it, and the year will run its course of smooth turns and rough patches. My friend, that’s life! That’s parenting! That’s definitely homeschooling. We always have visions of the ideal, but we have to remember that rough starts aren’t failures— they are simply rough starts.

3 things to remember if you are homeschooling through a rough start:

  1. A rough start does not characterize your year. Every good book opens with a conflict. Every good story involves overcoming challenges. The fact that your year may be off to a rough start does not mean you are going to have a terrible year. But it may help you to understand the challenges, the conflict, that will be part of your homeschool story this year. And just like a good book has twists and turns, ups and downs, your homeschool year will, too. The greatest stories are about those who overcome the challenges. Your rough start is merely chapter 1 of a great adventure.
  2. A rough start does not define you (or your child). It’s easy to let those difficult moments define us, to think a failed attempt means that we are failures. But that isn’t the case. Often, we can see that in everyone’s life but our own. Your rough start doesn’t mean that you aren’t cut out for this. Your child’s rough start doesn’t mean she will be impossible for you to teach or even that she will always be this challenging (though it sometimes feels like it). Accept God’s grace each day, for yourself and for your child. I’ve had some rough patches with my kids, but we love this journey together. And each year, we make great memories. The challenges are often part of those good memories, as we learn to overcome together. 
  3. A rough start is sometimes part of gaining momentum. Remember when you were first learning to ride a bike how difficult the first few pedals were? You wobble along trying to keep your balance until that momentum picks up, and then you are off! Sometimes, a homeschool year has that wobble at the start. You push and push and push. Then, the momentum of learning picks up and things get a little easier. Each time we stop for a break, there is that wobble of beginning again. But just like learning to ride the bike, you hang in there, knowing that if you push past those first few ungraceful moments, you’ll make it.

Are there exceptions? Are there rough starts that just aren’t meant to be? Of course, everyone’s story is different. But as a friend who’s been there a few times, let me say that if you are homeschooling through a rough start, take heart. Chances are, it’s only the beginning.