by Mandy Yokim, from Wonderaddo.
I have always loved maps. World maps, grocery store maps, those old city and state maps that you’d unfold and never be able to fold back just right – I like how they present information in a visual way. Now as a parent, I would be thrilled if my kids grow up loving maps. Even if they don’t love them, though, I am determined that they will grow up at least knowing how to understand them and use them to explore the world.
While locating where countries are on a world map is only one part of geography for kids, it is an extremely important skill for them to have when they begin expanding their knowledge about the world. I find that it can be fun and easy to incorporate maps into everyday learning, using your own town or city to do so. Here are some ways that we use maps and geography to learn about our city of Pittsburgh and then make connections to the big world outside of it!
Geography for Kids from Home through Sports
Pittsburgh is a big sports city. We love our football (Steelers), our hockey (Penguins) and, as of last year’s winning season, we have fallen back in love with our baseball (Pirates). On nearly all these sports teams, there are international players that can inspire kids to learn some geography. For example, when baseball season started this year I created a map of Pirates players and where they were born. This has been fun for my kids to use when we watch the games – as each player comes up to bat, we look to see where he was born and make that visual connection on the map.
This is especially fun to do with the Penguins because there are a lot of Canadian players as well as players from Finland and Russia, too. As for the Steelers, I used the broad reach of the fan base, which includes people all over the world, to teach the kids about world landmarks.
Geography for Kids from Home through Music
Most kids love music so when we saw the Brazilian-inspired samba band, Timbeleza, perform in the city I was inspired to teach the kids about Brazilian musical instruments, food and cultural traditions. We first found Brazil on our map and talked about which continent it was in, what language was spoken there and other facts. We have seen Timbeleza perform two more times throughout the city and I feel like the kids have a better understanding of the music and where it’s from now that we added some geography.
Last fall, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra toured Europe. We marked the locations on the map and tried to follow along on the Orchestra’s Facebook page and other social media sites. We got to see pictures, watch videos and hear music that helped us to feel like we were on tour, too.
Geography for Kids from Home in Art and Theatre
Pittsburgh was the first city in the United States to host the gigantic Rubber Duck Project, a floating public art project designed by Dutch artist, Florentijn Hofman. A version of the Rubber Duck has appeared in several countries throughout the world including Hong Kong, France, Japan and Belgium. We used our map to find all the countries and we made flash cards with a few facts from each country as well as how to write or say “duck” in the native language.
We love children’s theater and we are fortunate to have an international theater series in the city. Last year when a theater company from St. Petersburg, Russia performed, we went to see the show and learned a little bit about Russia and Russian connections in Pittsburgh. Of course, we used our map to find St. Petersburg and then see where it was located in relation to Moscow, Russian’s capital.
Geography for Kids through Museum Visits
Pittsburgh is a global city with a variety of cultural organizations and events. When I was planning our traditional egg hunt for Easter this year, I decided to add some geography fun by connecting Pittsburgh people, places and events to countries around the world. I printed out these geography flash cards and stuffed them in the eggs along with some candy and stickers. After the kids found their eggs, we used our world map to match up the Pittsburgh flash cards to the country it represented. This was fun for all the kids who participated, ranging in age from two years-old to seven years-old.
Using maps to help your kids make global associations with their hometown can be fun and educational – you can “travel” the world without packing one suitcase! When teaching geography for kids from home, they will begin to realize from an early age that they are part of something bigger, that they are connected to other places in the world. With that understanding, they can begin to develop compassion, tolerance and respect for the people who live all around them.
Mandy Fields Yokim is a freelance writer and founder of Wonderaddo, LLC, a global education initiative in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. You can follow more geography posts learn more about Wonderaddo on their facebook, twitter, instagram, pinterest, and youtube channel pages!