6 Ways to Build Common Core Geography Understandings in Pre-K – 6

Need fun and engaging activities to do with your kids this summer? In this post, John Holland provides six fun activities that parents can do with their kids this summer – all of which also increase an understanding of Geography.

In the Common Core, Geography and Social Science is embedded in the English Language Arts standards in grades K-6. Sadly, this might lead some schools to leave geography and social studies out of their curriculum. Thankfully, at the Teaching & Learning Conference 2014, National Geographic stepped up to help teachers and parents understand this shift in understanding the world and text.



In this vein I wanted to offer six activities parents (or teachers) can do with their kids to develop geography understandings (as well as science, physical, engineering, and history), become a Geo-Educator, and have fun during the summer.

1. Go to a different library than you usually do.

Almost every Saturday I take my kids to the library. I have done it for about 12 years now. The librarians know them and a few have even become friends. They know every inch of the children’s section. Now they are moving into the teen section which is a little smaller. The familiarity fuels the sense of “third place” home feeling that only a stalwart family tradition can build. But, during the summer, since we have a little time we sometimes go to a different branch. The effect of the novelty is amazing. It is like being turned loose in a candy store for them. We always come away with more books than usual and the nice thing is we can return them to our regular branch. It builds brain connections for my kids to transfer the geography of their home library onto a new setting and reorganize their thinking about the places and genres of books.

2. Find a geocache.

This is one of my 9 year-old son’s favorite things to do in the summer. It requires open-ended periods of time, an adventurous spirit, and a smart phone. If you have never done a geocache I STRONGLY encourage you to do one with a kid. It is like hide-and-seek on a global scale. One of the neat things about geocaches is the mystery. The names for geocaches are often clues and they teach you something about your local history or geography. They can be in out of the way places like inside a tree or in public places like the parking lot of the Krispy Kreme. For example, one cache we did was located on the site of a building that was torn down about 30 years ago. It was Tantilla Gardens, a duck pin bowling alley and dance hall that hosted jazz greats like Duke Ellington. The second floor had a roof that rolled back for dancing under the stars. This type of local history comes alive when you stand on the site and read the description of the cache to your child. Another cool thing about geocaching is knowing that you are doing it and the rest of the world isn’t. Sort of like in Harry Potter, non-cachers are called muggles.

3. Get off the beaten path.

Go to a familiar park, maybe where you go to a playground, then go off the path. If you have ever visited a place again and again it builds a mental map in your head. However, in this map there are often blank spots, undiscovered regions where you may never have explored. If you put on some suntan lotion and long pants you can go traipsing through rough hewn deer paths or jumping over creeks that lead to what feel like new countries. This gentle form of adventuring brings out the explorer in kids.

4. Build a small world for someone else to find.

It may sound far fetched but both my kids, 9 year-old boy and 13 year-old  love to build small worlds. It is a form of open-ended collaborative and mind bendingly creative play that is fun for all ages. Go to a local park, playground, or public space and use what you what you find there to build fairy, gnome, or munchkin homes. If you think your kids might balk at the corniness of it, try just starting a house yourself, see if they don’t want to contribute. For my daughter’s 9th birthday we did this at a local park with 7 girls and left an entire village for someone to find along the banks of a creek.

5. Walk or ride a bike somewhere with your kid.

This practice builds spatial and ecological perspectives. I often find that when I spend a lot of time in the car I start to feel like I am in a bubble. When I look around and listen to people in their cars I can hear them constantly reinforcing their own reality through check their phones at stop lights, listening to their music so loud I can’t hear mine, and generally not paying attention. it is a natural result of the interaction between our society and our environment. When I have a combustion engine to get me where I need to be I lose connection with the topography of the world. By simply choosing to walk or ride a bike you can build understanding of space and environment.

6. Finally, climb a tree with your kid.

That’s it. Just climb a tree. Climbing trees gives you a different perspective on your environment and it helps build physical strength and balance. You don’t have to climb high or even leave your street. This simple step of adopting a new perspective on your environment is a foundational approach to the discipline of geography.

Image: My son’s sculpture created by the river Saturday night.