I have only been on this homeschool adventure with my son for a few months. We took him out of his Montessori preschool this past spring and embarked on our new journey. He goes to a Spanish immersion school twice a week. He enjoyed summer camps there in the past so it was a natural choice for us when we brought him home. It's important that he still get a bit of classroom time. Although he will be homeschooled full time next year, hopefully he will re-enter school full time at an unschooly-school soon after that. I'm grateful to be able to homeschool him and thankful that I actually enjoy it.
These days we're talking about states that touch Texas and states that touch California. Breaking up the map using states he has been to has kept Zack interested and engaged as we move on to different regions. Hopefully that continues. We're learning about the flags, capitals, bodies of water, mountain ranges, interesting historical facts, attractions, myths and legends associated with each state as we go. Nevada has been particularly fun with all the mystery that surrounds Area 51. So far Zack's favorite part has been looking at pictures of the state birds (and their eggs) and flowers. Working roughly every other weekday on Geography, it works out to spending about 2-3 weeks per group of states like this:
- Week 1- States that touch Texas (where we live)
- Week 2-Continue with states that touch Texas, introducing states that touch California (where we vacationed once) mid-week.
- Week 3-Focus on states that touch California, revisiting states that touch Texas mid-week.
- Week 4-6- Cumulative reviews, games and projects to deepen knowledge in whatever area seems to peak his interest. Then it's on to the next two areas.
The goal is that by the end of first grade next summer (he skipped kindergarten), he will have a pretty neat breadth and depth of knowledge about all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Since we'll be talking about history, historical figures and science (state birds and flowers, bodies of water and mountains), his knowledge will run pretty deep across those subject areas as well. Not bad for first grade, eh? That "eh" was supposed to be an ironic nod to Canada, where we hope to go for vacation with family friends who are from there sooner or later.
Following is roughly how our first lesson went, as well as some links and tools we're using along the way. I'll show you items we actually use as well as a couple of fantasy items that are on my wishlist. I buy 80% of all non-food items in my life on Amazon.com and have provided links to the products I use in this lesson. See my Amazon Affiliate disclaimer in the sidebar. Both my son and I are enjoying exploring this subject. I really hope you find this helpful.
Introducing the Map
1. Start by identifying where you live, where relatives live or are from and where the White House is located on the map. Also note the symbols for the state capitols, the mountain ranges and the bodies of water as you make your observations.
When talking about the map take your time and allow the child to explore and ask questions as you get familiar with the different parts of the map. Zack enjoyed tracing routes from our home to different destinations on the map and determining which trips would take longer to drive to.
We started talking about geography as soon as he was old enough to realize we were traveling. I'd show him where his grandparents lived on maps and our globe before we traveled there. We always talk about the islands and bodies of water we cross when we go to the West Indies. When we traveled to Europe, we had a map and observed how we crossed the Atlantic by air and the English Channel by underwater train, as well as our route throughout Europe by train while we were there. So now at 5, when we sat down with the laminated map of the United States to talk about Geography, he is familiar with the concept. It is never too early to start learning about the world around us--he enjoys sketching maps of our neighborhood routes!
Pictured above is the map we use. I prefer this one because it shows all the bodies of water, major cities, capitals and mountain ranges. We're learning about all these elements as we go, but even if we weren't, he'd be familiar with them when we returned. The reverse has no color or names, but shows the rivers and asterisks for state capitals.
There are simpler maps that only show the state and capitals like the Mellisa & Doug U.S. map learning placemat pictured below, which might be good for parents wanting to begin geography more simply for very young children.
2. Introduce the compass and play the Which State Is Where? game using the North, South, East and West as your prompts.
We had a lot of fun with this one. After we established where Texas was on the map, and had talked about the compass, I asked him to touch Texas. Then I asked him to touch the state that is directly west of Texas, and so on until he had touched all the states that touch Texas. Then it was his turn to direct me to the different states. After a couple of times taking turns, he had a pretty good idea of the names of the states and their locations before we even got into the specifics.
This is when I brought out the flash cards. I only removed the ones I needed for that particular lesson--Texas and surrounding states from the U.S. States section of the box set. We noted the star on the front identifying the location of the capital and then turned the card over observing the state flag and exploring the facts. After we made it through all the cards once, I worked with him on classic flashcard drills to see if he could name the state and capital pictured on the card I held up. That was the first lesson. In subsequent lessons, after initial flash card review, we talked about the state birds. The cards from the Bird section of the box set were great here, because we played many variations of matching games with the state and bird cards. This was very helpful in him learning the state birds and we'll continue this way until we cover all 50 states.
As pictured below, I also handed him the cards and asked him to arrange them according to their locations on the map for hands-on reinforcement of state locations.
The Brighter Child Science and Social Studies flashcards box set is awesome. There are 324 cards total covering Birds (great for matching states to state bird games), US States, US Presidents (Obama is in there), Bugs, Reptiles & Spiders, Planets and Space, and Animals. There are pictures on one side, facts and info on the backs. We love 'em! They're only round $13, which is a steal for what you get. Here are some pics:
IMPORTANT NOTE: This box set is kinda perfect for this lesson. So far, there has been only one state bird we weren't able to find--the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (state bird of OK), but fortunately, we found this awesome website that has cataloged all birds along with audio files of their songs! We spent a lot of time listening to the different birds guessing what they might sound like based on their pictures before pressing play. Fun!
More Helpful Tools
Free Educational Videos and Games k-12 Science, Math, Social Studies and English: This site is basically a mecca of all things educational. My son uses up most of his screen time on this site. I could try to explain in words, but there aren't enough. I highly recommend this site for lesson reinforcement or just pure educational entertainment. There are aerospace, deep sea, germ, allergy and volcano documentary clips that my son has watched over and over again and they never get old. When I see my child actively seeking out real information and tuned in to documentary voice-overs and experts, my heart literally smiles, y'all. Check it out.
Free Printable Numbered U.S. Map Worksheet: I found this great free, printable numbered U.S. map with separate answer sheet and answer key. For now, I use it as a quiet time activity and will list a few states that we covered and ask him to color the states on the list. Sometimes I'll make it more challenging by writing instructions based on direction for him to color. For example, color the state west of Texas, color the state south of Arkansas, and so on. It's a great free printable, and I highly recommend. Click here to get to it.
Montessori U.S. Map Puzzle (with pegs on capitals): I don't have a puzzle yet, but when I get one, it'll be this one. We are having so much fun learning First Grade Geography, I'm pretty sure we will continue on to learn World Geography this way, which means I will likely collect this whole set of awesome, wooden, montessori puzzles of the world. This one comes with control maps for extra help or reinforcement. I want!