Many people mistakenly grow up thinking that geography is solely about knowing where places are on a map or the capitals of states and countries. When a famous person, or say a Miss America contestant, flubs a geographical location, his or her knowledge of geography will be called into question around the internet for days, further strengthening this misconception. But when a celebrity doesn't correctly identify the climate of a region or the religion of a people group, we aren't as quick to blame weak geography skills.
While capitals and country locations are definitely a part of studying geography, this is not the whole of it.
What is geography?
Geography is simply the study of the earth, the places and people in it, and their relationships. It could be defined more deeply and specifically, but that's geography in a nutshell.
Maps, continents, countries, capitals: this is just the beginning of a good geography study.
Elements of Studying Geography
Obviously, our simple definition of geography is quite broad. There are various elements of studying geography that fit inside this larger definition.
- Physical Geography – the physical structure of the earth, the continents and oceans, the different types of land masses and habitats found on the earth, for example.
- Political/Economic Geography – the different regions found around the world, their countries, capitals, and their government and economical systems.
- Human/Social Geography – the different people groups, their cultures, religions, social structures and traditions.
- Geography Tools – Maps and atlases and how they are made, map making and navigating tools, modern day tools such as GPS and Google Maps.
Simply studying where a country is will tell you very little about the climate, the people, their culture, their relationship with the countries around them, or their economic and social structure. Minimizing the study of geography to maps and atlases won't help you understand the bigger picture when you study history, economics, or government. Instead, a solid geography program will dig deeper.
What to Look For In a High School Geography Curriculum
While a simpler approach to geography is suitable for younger ages, for a high school curriculum, you want a study that will provide a strong foundation for these almost-adults who will soon be setting out on their own and taking on the world. Even if your child never becomes a celebrity, a game show contestant, or Miss America, a general understanding of the world and everything in it is tangibly useful.
In everything from job interviews to mission trips, from understanding politics to parenting at the playground, your child's geography skills (or lack thereof) will play a role in how well he or she is able to take on these tasks.
1. Choose a Geography Curriculum That is Diverse
Whereas most of the emphasis may be on physical and political geography, you want a curriculum that at least touches on human and social geography as well. Likewise, you need a curriculum thorough enough and containing enough material to count for a high school geography credit.
2. Choose a Geography Curriculum That is Structured For Independent Learning
At this age, students should be able to tackle subjects independently with very little assistance. A curriculum that speaks directly to the student and is geared for independent learning will only make that easier. A curriculum which also has further suggestions of things to read, research, or otherwise dig into, is even better.
3. Choose a Geography Curriculum That is Non-Consumable
With good geography skills being so important, it stands to reason that you'll want to teach geography to each of your children. If you have more than one child, a non-consumable curriculum is the clear choice so that you can reuse it with each successive child, saving time and money.
4. Choose a Geography Curriculum That Has a Solid Worldview
It should make sense that worldview would influence the study of geography and should be considered when choosing a curriculum. The worldview the text is written from might influence your decision when choosing.
North Star Geography is a junior high/high school curriculum that contains all of the above qualities and is structured for independent learning. The text covers three main areas of geography: geography skills (such as reading maps and navigation,) physical geography, and human geography. It is written from a low key but clear Christian worldview, without any preference for denomination or theology. It is also offered as an online course.
Teach Geography With Confidence
Knowing that geography is more than studying places on a map doesn't have to make it scary. It helps to remember that you could never possibly teach all there is to know about the world in one course. With a good curriculum, you can give your child a broad but firm introduction to the study of geography.