How To: Teach Social Science, Part 1 (Geography)

There are a number of disciplines that fall under the heading of “social sciences” but I am going to focus on the ones that would most commonly be taught in a home-school curriuculum: history, geography, economics and political science.  Some may wonder why I would choose to use the term “social sciences” rather than just deal with each subject as an individual entity.  The reason is that I am looking at these subjects the way a college does.

Before your child enters high school how you decide to label your coursework is not that critical, but once your child starts high school you will want to compile a professional looking transcript with coursework that a college will recognize and see as desirable.  (By the way, what I use and recommend for putting together a high school transcript is Transcript Pro.)

Interestingly, what states require in order to give students a high school diploma is not necessarily what a college requires for admission.  If you plan to home-school through high school it may not matter what your state’s requirements are for graduation, though this can vary depending on your state’s home school law and you should familiarize yourself with your state’s home school law and its graduation requirements.

I recommend that you start early in your child’s high school program checking on the admission requirements of colleges you might be interested in having your child attend and plan your high school curriculum, and your child’s transcript, accordingly.  (Please note: by attend I don’t mean “going away to college” – my two older children lived at home while attending a state university which cut the cost of college by at least 50%).

My middle son will be enrolling in a four-year college in fall 2012 – the same college my other two children graduated from.  Still, though my other children had already attended this school, I went to the university’s website the other day to check on admission  requirements, because they can change from year to year.

My son will have no trouble fulfilling their social sciences requirement as he will have 4 credits of history and a credit of economics when he graduates high school.  In addition, because he is enrolled in our local community college’s dual-enrollment program, when my son admits to his four-year college he will already have approximately 40 credits that will count towards his engineering degree.  Through dual-enrollment he earns high school and college credits simultaneously…and in Florida it”s free.  I only have to pay for his books.  (Something to look into for your child, no?)

Today I am going to focus on teaching geography.  I will first say that a thorough knowledge of geography sounds like a nice thing to have, but I believe it is less important to have memorized every country in the world than it is to have a general understanding of relationships of place.  Now what the heck does that mean, you ask?  I guess what I am saying is that I think geography should be considered a tool rather than an end unto itself.  I have spoken before of learning things in context – as I did in my “How To: Teach Science” post – and I think that geography is a subject that gives context to many other subjects you will study such as science, history, politics, and more.

I have used several tools to teach geography.  Here are the ones that have worked especially well for me:

1) Map, Charts, and Graphs– These workbooks begin by teaching very basic skills such as understanding map keys and pictographs, and progress to examining world and U.S. maps in-depth.  I have used these for more years than I can remember and I highly recommend them as they are easy to use, the pages don’t take a lot of time to complete, and they are relatively inexpensive.

2) The Geography Coloring Book – One of my sons used this workbook during middle school and again, it’s an easy to use resource that I highly recommend.  Though you could use it with younger children if you don’t mind spending the time guiding them, I recommend it as a resource your middle- and senior- high schoolers can use independently.  From the Amazon.com product description: “Each section begins with a plate containing a political map, a physical map, and regional maps. World Thematic Maps consist of eleven global maps covering climate, rainfall, temperatures, prevailing winds, ocean currents, vegetation, land use, population, racial distribution, languages, and religions.”

3) Scholastic Ready-to-Go Super Book of Outline Maps – This workbook is meant to be used as a complement to any curriculum.  It contains 101 reproducible outline maps of the continents, countries, the 50 states, and more.  It is particularly worthwhile, I think, as a tool for your unit studies programs.  Though it says it’s for grades 4 through 8, it could be used in any grade and could certainly be used as an introduction to geography for your youngest students.

As I stated before, I would encourage you to see geography as a tool that can enhance just about any subject your child may study, rather than as another isolated program that you have to “get through.”  Unit studies are particularly suited for integrating a study of geography with other subjects.  But whatever teaching method you are using, whether you’re studying science, history, religion…whatever you’re studying and whatever curriculum you’re using, work on incorporating geography into that curriculum.

And I would love if you would share the geography resources you have used in your own studies.  Just tell me about them in the comments!

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