I really love maps.
I’m the smartphone owner who keeps a well-worn atlas in my car at all times; I’m the mom who holds it up, battling against permanently folded pages, to show the backseat road-trip crew where we are. Maps move my imagination.
Geography is one of the areas of study that makes me happiest in our homeschool. It’s endlessly interesting, and manages to be both essential and low-pressure all at once.
I’m learning along the way that geography is not only broader but much more important than I thought. To understand anything that’s (ever) happened, I’ve got to understand where it happened.
We learn geography through maps – that’s crucial – and we learn it in a parallel way through story and experience. I love how many of these connections happen naturally when we’re nurturing curiosity and filling our homes with great books, both fiction and non-fiction.
This is what I love about a classical education: nothing can stay fragmented! Geography cannot be disconnected from history or science or even language.
This year, as I think about the geography we’ll be encountering at CC and in our history studies, I want to bring forward just two specific books for my kids – one for my daughter, and one for my older boys.
Picture Book Geography
This year our own little family is moving through the Middle Ages in our 4-year history cycle; our CC community is focusing on the United States. Both pieces give us some wonderful opportunities to connect geography and maps with – well, everything.
One of our very favorite books is Holling Clancy Holling’s Paddle-to-the-Sea, a Caldecott Honor winner published in 1941. This story tells the tale of a little carved boat dropped into a stream by a young boy living north of Lake Superior. Over the course of years, the small boat makes its way through each of the Great Lakes, and finally out into the great Atlantic Ocean. It’s a charming and wonder-filled story, and is jam-packed with a treasure of living and practical geography.
I’ve read this one with my big boys, and this year I’ll make sure to read it to my second grader. We’ll take our sweet time- there’s much to absorb here. It’s really a short chapter book dressed up in picture book clothing. Each chapter (there are 27) lives on a one-page spread and tells one piece of Paddle’s journey.
Chapter Book Geography
With my big boys, I’m swinging back to the Middle Ages. I came across an intriguing book on Ambleside Online’s Year 7 list – it’s called The Brendan Voyage and it’s by Tim Severin. The subtitle is enough to get your wheels spinning: A Leather Boat Tracks the Discovery of America by the Irish Sailor Saints.
Written in 1978, this book recounts the efforts of the author and his crew to recreate the journey behind the legend (or true tale?) of sixth-century Celtic monks who may have actually been the first Europeans to reach America. Impossible, goes the general consensus. Is it? wonders Severin.
He decides to find out.
This book is not just an adventure in history and geography, but it’s also science. It’s a dive into ancient texts and methods. How does one build a leather boat?? An ocean-going leather boat? An epic amount of research and careful replication go into this project. And then begins the real adventure. Whales! Iceburgs! I could really go on and on. I grabbed it from the library to see if it would actually be a do-able read for the boys – a quick preview! – but I can’t stop reading it.
You could call it an early-generation experience memoir. Although crossing the Atlantic in a leather boat puts cooking one’s way through Julia Child or living without internet for a year in a somewhat dimmer light.
Because the boys are a little on the young side for this book, we’re going to read it together (not aloud, but at the same pace, me included) and inch our way through it, just 10-15 pages a week. We’re all intrigued, so I think it will be a fun readerly adventure to embark on together.
I love CC’s Geography Trivium Tables – Cycle 3 being no exception. I’m almost embarrassed that so many of the geographical features of my own country were unknown to me before our first trip through this cycle. These maps cover not only states and capitals, but mountains, rivers, canals, trails, and other physical features. I’m aiming to hit this together 2-3 times each week.
We’ll encounter other maps in the course of our history studies, like always. Exposure to historical maps with their ever-shifting borders and empires does much to root old stories. (I like these types of maps, but our work with them is not at all consistent, which is fine with me.)
A great source for these is Knowledge Quest Map’s digital Map Trek. I purchased a bundle of these at a steep discount a couple of years ago, and am so impressed at their graphic design, color, and inclusion of detail. I print out the ones that are interesting and/or important when we need them.
Most of us are attracted to maps- maybe in different ways or for different reasons. But there’s likely a map to tickle everyone’s curiosity – even fictional maps (Middle Earth!)….even floor plans! (I love floor plans.) It seems that having interesting resources in my home for free and easy perusal is often more powerful than my well-meaning attempts to force a match. (Maybe maps are like books.)
Geography is more than maps, but one of our most favorite map books is shown in the top photo. Written by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski, it’s called…wait for it…. Maps.
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