where in the world

For a long time now, I’ve been wanting to improve my children’s knowledge of geography. Years ago, I tacked a world map to the wall in the hopes that it’d help them get their bearings (not sure how, really — through osmosis maybe?). We used to play the Ten Days in the USA game. At one point I let them play computer geography games. And there was a bit of real-life exploring: Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Peru.

But none of it seemed to help. They were still relentlessly (and embarrassingly) clueless. 

This spring, I’d decided I’d had enough. They ought to be able to at least identify the continents, for crying out loud, and knowing the names and locations of a few of the countries might prove useful. There was no need to memorize stuff, just the ability to navigate a map would be enough.

So I started researching — first geography books and then, when I realized that wasn’t exactly what I was after, atlases. I wanted something that was easy to read, informative, interesting to look at, and not overly juvenile.

I picked out a few atlases on Amazon and then, because of the higher-than-usual price tags and my own uncertainty about what would actually be useful (I’m no whiz at geography either, shhh), I made my husband sit down with me and wade through the descriptions and reviews.

After much deliberation, I finally made my choice. Not too scholarly and not too elementary, not too clunky big and not too eensy small, not too boring drab and not too gaudy colorful, this one, I hoped, would be just right.

And it is! It’s an absolute delight.

We frequently use the atlas to look up places that we’re discussing, reading about, listening to in the news, and once we even used it to look up the address of a blog commenter’s strange-sounding address to make sure it was real and not spam.

Most days, the kids take turns sitting down with me to read and discuss different sections. We spend a lot of time just looking at the different maps and comparing them to each other. For example, we study the global maps on cloud cover and then relate what we’re learning to the previous maps about land cover and and climate change and water sources and income levels and so on.

The more we read and examine, the more connections we begin to make. Why are places more populated along the coast lines? Why is this country so wealthy even though its climate is so inhospitable? What’s with all the lakes in our northern states? Why are there barren strips to the east of the mountains in the north and to the west of the mountains in the south? Cyclones are counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere, and — Hey! Water goes down the drain counterclockwise here, too!

And it’s a great tool for story-telling. Here, I say, pointing to Qatar, is where your uncle met your aunt. Here — pointing to Hong Kong, Las Vegas, etc — is where your cousins live. Here is where Pip lives (we’re reading Great Expectations, remember). Here — pointing to Thailand — is where your dad hung out on the beaches for a month after hiking here — pointing to the Himalayas. Here, here, here….

someone’s got a goal…

It’s a lovely book, is what I’m saying.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (4.6.19), Thursday snippets, the quotidian (5.8.17), moroccan carrot and chickepea salad, rhubarb crunch vanilla ice cream, how it is, so far today, the family reunion of 2012.


  • Chepkirui

    We just went online to look for an atlas for our 10-year old who has been complaining, reasonably enough, that she hasn't ever been taught geography! This one is a bit too pricey for us at the moment, but I'm so glad to get your recommendation: I'll add it to our longterm list.

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