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Geography for the Early Years

Charlotte Mason’s Elementary Geography I, the first in her series of geography books for students, included many topics such as, introducing the nearly spherical shape of Earth, the concept of a map, the points of a compass, the continents, land forms, and bodies of water. Additionally, a study of the Earth’s rotation and revolution, giving us the seasons, day and night was included.

Geography in these early years typically drew from this first book, descriptions of children from different countries and cultures from various other books and the use of sand trays to create models of land forms, bodies of water and local areas such as their homes, parks, etc. Some early map work lessons focused on pacing out and planning maps of their neighborhoods, gardens, parks, etc.

As geography and history are interrelated, lesson plans for history will always include some chapters with map work. There will also be a noticeable connection between geography and the lessons for natural history, science and nature study as well, since geography not only includes the study of humans but also the physical aspects of Earth. These physical geography topics often overlap with those of Earth Science.

These same topics are also covered in Year One of this curriculum, but may be found under the headings of geography, history or natural history. Geography from A to Z by Jack Knowlton will be used to introduce land forms and bodies of water, where models of some of these forms will be created and described using sand and water trays. Descriptions of different countries and cultures will be covered in detail in Year Two.

It is important to remember that children should be gaining their own personal knowledge of the world through outside exploration. Your nature experiences will do much in building up these critical encounters. Just as in science, a clear understanding of Earth comes through direct contact with the natural world. Allow your children to explore rivers, streams, lakes, oceans, mountains, hills, bays and much more. These real life experiences will later make terms and concepts more meaningful.

Geography from A to Z

The last half of Year One, part of the Winter Term and all of the Spring Term, will be focused on Geography from A to Z by Jack Knowlton. This book presents the meanings of many geographical words, particularly land forms and bodies of water, along with a clearly drawn picture illustrating each word. It is a great book to use as a resource for teaching young children these geographical concepts, lending itself well to lessons involving a sand and water tray. By touching, seeing and smelling the sand and water as they mold these models, they are better able to unite their senses with their understanding of each concept.

Charlotte Mason specifically wished young children to work with the latter resources, allowing for a deeper connection to them. The ability to form these geographical terms into three-dimensional models allows them to really see the way the land is shaped or formed. They can see the differences for themselves in how a plateau differs from a hill or the way the land and water meet when illustrating a bay. Creating models are never replacements for real life experiences, although it is sometimes helpful to augment them. Also, not every geographical formation is available for every child to actually experience; models are good supplements for this reality.

Charlotte Mason wrote:

Definitions.––But definitions should come in the way of recording his experiences. Before he is taught what a river is, he must have watched a stream and observed that it flows; and so on with the rest.

Children easily simulate knowledge, and at this point the teacher will have to be careful that nothing which the child receives is mere verbiage, but that every generalization is worked out somewhat in this way:––The child observes a fact, as, for example, a wide stretch of flat ground; the teacher amplifies. He reads in his book about Pampas, the flat countries of the north-west of Europe, the Holland of our own eastern coast, and, by degrees, he is prepared to receive the idea of a plain, and to show it on his tray of sand.

-Home Education, Vol. 1; p. 277

Typically, some of the types of land forms created with the sand and water tray used in Charlotte Mason’s Form I included: islands, isthmuses, straits, mountains, lakes; valleys, rivers, hills, villages; peninsulas, headlands, seas, bays, gulfs, plains, plateaus, etc. All of these features and more are included in Geography from A to Z. Year One students will be creating models of some of the terms in this book, along with keeping an accompanying notebook, as able.

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