Great Books for Studying Geography in Your Homeschool
Knowing where is as important as knowing who, what, when, and how. These geography books will help you figure out the shape of the world, which can benefit your studies of other subjects including history, science, and literature.
This year, Geography Awareness Week runs from November 16-22, but geography studies should be part of your homeschool year-round. Geography has never been more relevant: Not only does the global community affect everything from which jeans we buy to what takeout we order for dinner, geography also plays a role in almost every other subject you might tackle, from history to science to literature. We’ve rounded up a collection of geography resources that will make it easy to add geography to your homeschool lesson plans, whether you’re keeping things casual or looking for a more academic approach.
Globetrotting with Folktales by Intellego Unit Studies
Make geography relevant to elementary-age kids by giving them a sense of connection. This unit study lets kids explore the globe through traditional folk tales—and learning about “Sister Fox” will help kids remember the culture and geography of Ukraine, where the story takes place. Bonus: Most of these folktales don’t show up in traditional storybooks, so this curriculum also makes a good introduction to world literature.
Eat Your Way Around the World by Jamie Aramini
Half the fun of traversing the globe is getting to try different foods, and Eat Your Way Around the World (there’s also a United States version, written by Loree Pettit) explores 30 different countries through a series of user-friendly recipes. Most can be prepared with a trip to your regular supermarket, and mapping out where people eat, say, curry or smorgasbord makes an impression no worksheet can match. The recipes are on the simple side, so if you’re inspired, you may want to follow up with a traditional cookbook with more recipes from the country you’re studying. It’s certainly hard to think of a more delicious way to study geography in your homeschool.
Discover America series by Sleeping Bear Press
With titles like A is for Aloha: A Hawai’i Alphabet and P is for Peace Garden: A North Dakota Alphabet, this thoughtfully researched, brightly illustrated series of picture books makes a warm introduction to the United States. The 51 books cover all 50 states and the District of Columbia, too. These would be fun to use with elementary students as part of a United States history and geography unit.
Geography: A Literature Approach by Beautiful Feet
Designed for grades 2 through 7, this geography program uses Holling C. Holling’s classic books Paddle to the Sea, Minn of the Mississippi, Tree in the Trail, and Seabird to teach geography—plus a little science and history. Mapping the books and external research play a big role in this curriculum, so parents should plan to be hands-on for best results. Beautiful Feet is not a secular curriculum company, and their history studies can get a bit problematic for secular homeschoolers because of that, but the geography books are mostly fine—just keep an eye out for anything you want to edit, and plan to substitute Walking With Dinosaurs (or something similar) for the creationist Dinosaurs by Design, which is recommended as an additional activity. (It would be awesome if a secular homeschooler wanted to create a totally secular version of this program!)
Geography Through Art by Sharon Jeffus
If you’re teaching geography across a wide range of ages or to a kinetic or artistic learner, this book—which includes art projects like making batik fabric or writing in calligraphy from 25 different countries—is a winner. As you explore the world’s geography, you’ll also explore an area’s indigenous art by making your own projects. You can use this as the spine of a geography-art study, or grab this book as a hands-on supplement to a more traditional geography program.
Mapping the World with Art by Ellen McHenry
Take a holistic approach to history as you make your way around the world, studying the history of maps and mapmaking along with various art techniques for creating your own maps. Teens can work their way through the projects in the books (which include activities as diverse as building a star clock and drawing a compass rose) toward the final project: a hand-drawn map of the entire world. You might want to team this text up with a current events unit or follow it up with a more political geography study since this one really focuses mainly on maps, history, and exploration. (Note: Ellen McHenry’s science isn’t secular, but I didn’t see any problems with this geography program, and I think its art focus makes it a very good pick for certain kinds of students.)
Mapping the World by Heart by David Smith
For serious cartographers, this year-long study (designed for middle to high school students) aims to send kids away with the ability to draw the world map from memory. Working toward that end, students will memorize countries, mountain ranges, rivers, bodies of water, and more, as they meticulously map each section of the globe. If you want your student to get a detailed picture of modern geographic and political boundaries, this program is a good choice. The big picture final project may also appeal to project-based homeschoolers.
The Little Man in the Map by E. Andrew Martonyi
This children’s book is a great example of how associations can help you make sense of geography. In the story, a class discovers the shape of a man in the middle of their United States map and uses that figure as a jumping off point for understanding the geography of the rest of the country. This is a great resource to help elementary students memorize the names and locations of the 50 states in the United States—and you can grab the sequel The Little Man In the Map Teaches the State Capitals! if you want to memorize state capitals while you’re at it.
If You Lived Here by Giles Laroche
This children’s book personalizes geography by illustrating what people’s homes are like in Spanish mountains, on Dutch rivers, in South African villages, and more. The book then considers why houses in different parts of the world—what geographical, environmental, and historical factors contributed to the evolution of homes in each area? The intricate bas relief collages are delightfully detailed.
This geography book club delivers monthly installments of U.S. geography, focusing on two different states in each shipment. Kids solve puzzles and explore the history and geography of the featured states. If you just want to add a little U.S. geography to your routine without diving into a full curriculum, this could be a fun option.
This list is excerpted from the fall 2015 issue of home/school/life.