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Helping Your Child Learn Geography: Part 1

Remember thumbing through an atlas or encyclopaedia as a child, imagining yourself as a world traveller on a safari in Africa, or boating up the Mississippi River, climbing the peaks of the Himalayas, visiting ancient cathedrals and castles of Europe, the Great Wall of China? We do. The world seemed full of faraway, exotic, and wonderful places that we wanted to know more about.

Today, we would like to believe that youngsters are growing up similarly inquisitive about the world. Perhaps they are, but recent studies and reports indicate that, if such imaginings are stirring in our youngsters, they’re not being translated into knowledge.

If youngsters are to acquire an appreciation of geography and ultimately learn to think geographically, parents and communities must insist that local schools restore it to prominence in the curriculum. They should insist that geography be studied and learned, in one form or another, through several years of the primary and secondary curriculum.

Learning should not be restricted to the classroom. Parents are a child’s first teachers and can do much to advance a youngster’s geographic knowledge. This booklet suggests some ways to do so. It is based on a fundamental assumption: that children generally learn what adults around them value. The significance attached to geography at home or at school can be estimated in a glance at the walls and bookshelves.

Simply put, youngsters who grow up around maps and atlases are more likely to get the 'map habit' than youngsters who do not. Where there are maps, atlases, and globes, discussions of world events (at whatever intellectual level) are more likely to include at least a passing glance at their physical location. Turning to maps and atlases frequently leads youngsters to fashion, over time, their own 'mental maps' of the world - maps that serve 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.

Location: Position on the Earth’s Surface
Look at a map. Where are places located? To determine location, geographers use a set of imaginary lines that crisscross the surface of the globe. Lines designating 'latitude' tell us how far north or south of the equator a place is. Lines designating 'longitude' measure distance east and west of the prime meridian - an imaginary line running between the North Pole and the South Pole through Greenwich, in London. You can use latitude and longitude as you would a simple grid system on a travel map. The point where the lines intersect is the 'location' (or global address).

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