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Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Child's Geography: An Overview

Since Jessica asked to find out more about this book, I thought I'd share some info. You can purchase A Child's Geography: Explore His Earth by Ann Voskamp in either book form or e-book form here:
There is also a link there to download sample chapters.
It is also available from Amazon.

Now, first, let me say, this is not the only resource I am using for Geography this year. We will also begin putting together a United States notebook with pages for each of the states (more on that another time). David will also be using Map Skills Level E by Continental Press, a workbook. Also, be forewarned that while Child's Geography is softcover, it is printed on glossy pages by a small press, so it is pricey: $32.95 for the physical book. I may have paid a little less because I was able to preorder it before the first copies were available (it was just published this spring). Now about the book itself:

This book is designed to be multi-leveled, gr. 1-2 to gr. 6-7 (more on that later). In the first chapter we find out that the word "geography" comes from the Greek meaning "to write about the Earth." And that is really what this book is about, the Earth. The emphasis is on the Earth as God's creation. This is not what we have come to associate with the word "geography" in today's schools. I'd call it more of a classical approach. While you will find out about the continents and the oceans, the hemispheres, and so on, you'll also find out that the word "Asia" may have come from the Assyrian word "asu" which means "land of the sunrise." You'll also find out about ocean currents, tides, evaporation, and the hydrosphere. In addition to the axis, you'll find out what that has to do with the seasons. You'll find out about the Earth's core, seismic waves, plate tectonics. You'll learn a bit about the history of maps, latitude and longitude, about the "problem of longitude" (this intrigued me because my husband has raved to me about a book he read recently that is all about the "problem of longitude" and the history of how it was finally solved)'s a 168 page, 8-1/2 x 11" book, so you will not be covering things in depth, but I would describe it as a good survey course---it gives you a good overall background and leaves you with the opportunity to further explore any of these topics.

It is divided up into 11 chapters and each chapter has:
  • a reading section that can be read aloud to all your children, usually about 5 pages long;
  • "Tell the folks at home all about it", which is a few discussion questions to help "jog" memories about what you just read;
  • "Postcard Home"--- short activity where your children can make a postcard to tell what they learned;
  • "Reaching Out to His World", which is a suggestion of something we can do to benefit our community and is related to the lesson,
  • "Further Explorations", books, videos, websites, and other resources if you would like to further explore the topic of that chapter;
  • a couple of "Too-Fun-to-Resist Excursions" which are hands-on activities...some examples: make a model of the atmosphere, making an edible Earth out of ice cream and sherbet, making a time zone clock, exploring plate tectonics with play dough...
You could do a chapter a week and complete it in a semester, or spread it a bit and mix it with a geography workbook. The book also comes with a cd with copywork pages and full-color templates for making the postcards.

What I like: It combines knowledge of the Earth itself with general "geographic" knowledge...after all, any separations are purely arbitrary. And the scientific aspects are attractive to my oldest who is science-crazy. I also like using a book that reinforces our belief in God's creation...most geography books are all about man's artificial lines and contrivances which really don't tell you anything about God's Earth, just how we divide it up and categorize it. I like that it's by a small press. I like that it's set up in such a way that you can use what you like...I don't have to do any of the hands-on activities if I so choose, and it will still be complete. I like that I can read aloud the beginning of the chapter to all my children and it is written in such a way that my eight year old will learn that the Earth is 24,560 miles around and it would take him 3 years to walk around the Earth if he walked 22 miles a day (pretending, of course, that you can walk across water) and my 2 year old will still be enthralled and know it's really, really, really BIG!

This is the kind of book that your family can do together, same activities, same readings, and then you could give your older children further reading assignments or some of the other included activities (there are some mapping activities that would be good for that, as well as some of the "Reaching Out" activities). I would say that this program requires a good deal of parental guidance with younger children. A third or fourth-grader who is an excellent reader could probably do the reading, but the "excursions" (hands-on activities) really do require adult supervision...if you're pressed for time that week, skip the excursion, it's purely optional.

I do wish it was less costly. And that it was available in a hardcover. And one peeve I have is the highly professional picture icons used to denote the sections (that's personal though, there is nothing wrong with them, they just annoy ME for some reason, maybe because I saw one the other day on the internet connected to something totally unrelated, so they must be "stock" photos). I do not think this book is advanced enough for 6-7 graders, unless you just use it as a starting point and add a lot to it...frankly, 6-7 graders should already know this stuff... and the hands-on activities are probably too easy for that age group as well. I would say that if you want a stand-alone this is best for 2nd to 5th grade, though you can modify some of the activities down to a kindergarten level (all my kids loved the postcards) and you could add a few resources or writing activities for older children. Some of the readings may be a bit confusing or technical for some younger children, but a little careful editing or further explanation could help there.

I hope you find this helpful...please comment!


  1. So is this a consumable text, or will this be the only book buy? Does the CD have all the photocopies I need or will Mike be using the copy machine on campus until the secretary gives him the evil eye?

    Okay, let's say that I was going to do this with James and Isaac and I wanted them both to come away with "real" knowledge, not just information that the Earth is big. Would you say that the younger child should be in first? Let's assume a totally average child. If Isaac is in first, James would be in fourth. Is this too late to start? What should I get in the meantime? What did you use last year for geography?

    Okay, so we are using "Maps, Charts and Graphs" by Modern Curriculum Press. And I really like that James can sit down and do the lesson while I homeschool Isaac. What I don't like is that we've just completed our 18th day of school and he finished the first text about three days ago. It's not an expensive text, and the book only has about 20 lessons, but there isn't a lot there- you know what I mean? He's retaining information, but I am not sure he is going to be able to really apply it.

    BTW: I have the Montessori Land and Water Forms. They are a really fun and hands-on way to learn some basic geography skills. Mary and Peter would love them! I highly recommend them if you see a deal on EBAY.

  2. No, it is not a consumable text, you can use it over and over to your heart's content. You can print out as much as you want from the cd, no photocopies of the text itself are necessary.

    Have you downloaded the 2 sample chapters? If I remember correctly they are complete chapters, so while they don't cover the most advanced stuff (first 2 chapters), they will give you a real feel for how the text is set up.

    I don't think fourth grade is too late to start this text, and yes, I would recommend the younger child be in at least 1st. Mary is Isaac's age and in spite of her constant questions, she seems to be getting something out of it, but I think it will be harder for her to understand in the later chapters. This is my plan...I do it now with all the kids participating to the best of their ability. Most of the activities are such that Mary and Peter will enjoy them and learn something, too. Then, in a few years I'll do it again with the younger children while David is doing his own independent study of some kind. I just feel like 3rd-4th grade is an optimal age for this text and I know that by the time Mary is really old enough, David will be too old. I'll probably wait until Mary is 2nd or 3rd grade level to do it again to make sure that Peter will get a lot out of it, but since it's infinite reusable, there's no reason I can't use it again, and he'll have a younger brother or sister to learn alongside him.

    I know what you mean about workbooks...I love workbooks because they free me up some, but David absolutely hates them, and I don't want to spend all my time arguing with him, so I don't use them much.

    Getting back to the subject at hand, whether or not this text is for you really depends upon what you expect to teach the boys with it...Geography is a tremendously broad subject. For instance, it will teach them about latitude and longitude and the history of map-making, like how flat maps need to be "squashed" so they are not as accurate about depicting the whole world as a globe, but acceptable for shorter distances...but it will not teach them the finer points of reading a map, you'd need a workbook for that. This book has no "book work", if you know what I mean. It has reading selections and hands-on activities, but no worksheetsIt also will not teach them the names and locations of all the states, you'll need a separate program for that. Another resource that you just reminded me I have and would be great with this is "Make It Work: Maps, the Hands-On Approach to Geography". You can probably check this out from a good library, I happpened to pick it up used. Again, this is not a consumable book and no photocopies to make, but full of activities to reinforce map skills, like making a trundle wheel (measure distances), making a bearing board, making your own scale map, measuring height and creating your own contour map, etc...activities that would probably be beyond a 1st grader, but a fourth grader would probably enjoy them. This would also be a good addition to something like the "Maps, Charts, and Graphs" program you are using.

    Last year we used the workbook approach, but, since David hates workbooks, we spent more time arguing about doing the workbook pages than actually doing them. He claimed it was too easy, and his reaction to "too easy" is not to plow through and finish the book but to complain "this is boriiiing" and not do his work. This may have been a reaction to being bored most of the time in school the year before (they use a lot of workbooks in school). The workbook "Map Skills" we are using is Level E (5th grade, but don't tell him or he'll say it's too hard!) and has about 40-45 lessons (each is only 1 page) so if I have him do 1 a week combined with everything else we are doing, it should last the year.

    What should you do in the meantime while Isaac gets older? Good question. You could try concentrating on a different aspect of geography, like learning the state names, capitals and locations, for instance. (go to for free software and online games including US map puzzle) Or learning about countries and cultures (that's something James and Isaac could both do). Obviously this is something they could learn more in depth later on, but they could get their feet wet by putting together a lapbook on a country or continent, for example. One neat website with a lot of homeschool printables is
    If you go to:
    you will find a bunch of great free printables for creating a country and culture lapbook/notebook.

    One last suggestion...of course, there's no reason why you need to formally cover geography early on at all, you could just concentrate on your history lessons and use those opportunities to get out the atlas or globe and talk about locations of countries in the past and present and whatever else occurs to you...landforms, continents, etc. we actually did a lot of this last year since David balked so much at the workbooks. Mary knows where Egypt is on the globe, so at least I know someone learned something! (Actually, both David and Mary have a much better sense of place in terms of foreign countries than I ever had as a child, so I think it does work).

    I hope this helps Jessica, we should talk some time about these things!


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