The Best Way to Teach 1st Grade Geography | Lets Go Geography

The Best Way to Teach 1st Grade Geography

First Grade Geography

First grade geography is as important for kids as telling time or tying their shoes.  It’s a necessary skill in today’s world.

After all, the internet allows us to communicate across the globe instantly.  We are able to experience other cultures thousands of miles away by clicking a link.  And even search engines are translating languages for us so we can read posts that would normally be out of our reach.

Now more than ever, our kids need geography.

And especially in the United States.  A report done by a collaboration of American universities showed the US ranking second-to-LAST in geographic knowledge, beating only Mexico.  Kids consistently failed simple map location questions.

How do we make sure our kids know geography?  For starters, start early and keep it fun.

The Basics

Sometimes we get so consumed with teaching first graders basic reading and writing and math, that we forget other necessary things. Other basics. Like geography.

In my class of first graders, I ask them at the beginning of the year what country they live in.  Many of them don’t know.

Many don’t know their state or their city, and many don’t know what that even means.

Or when I ask which ocean they were swimming in when they were at the beach that summer, they have no clue.

This is really basic stuff.  And first graders should know this and more.

For starters, first grade geography should make sure kids can identify the country where they live. What’s more, they should also have a general idea about other countries beyond that.

After all, kids need to understand that the world is a big place with many languages, cultures, and lifestyles that are far different from their own.

And, of course, they should know all of the continents and be able to identify them.

And let’s not forget the oceans.

Foundational things.  Important things.

And they can learn all this by looking at continents and countries around the world, a little bit at a time.  And in an interesting and engaging way.

The Best Way

So… what is the best way to teach first grade geography?

No, it’s not just memorizing a vocabulary list.  Let’s be real.  Most kids already know what a mountain or an island is.  And if by some chance they don’t, a simple explanation will do it.  Let’s not make it complicated.

The best way is to teach about the world is to have the child experience the world. From the comfort of your own home or classroom.  And what does that look like?

I’m glad you asked.

How to Teach First Grade Geography

  1.  First, you need to show them actual countries.
    The idea that other people live in other places which can be very different from their own is all new to them.
    Real people, Real places.  Actually that’s a motto here at Let’s Go Geography!
    Geography for first graders starts within this frame of reference.
  2. Secondly, keep it short.
    It’s first grade, remember?  Don’t try to master everything.
    Show the kids some of the culture, climate, plants & animals, and landmarks of the location. Hit the high spots. Note the big ideas.
    Keep it fun and fascinating, and keep it simple.
  3. Third, have some hands-on activities on the day’s theme.
    Activities with flags and maps are just the beginning and are valuable.
    Flags reinforce the idea that all countries are unique and different from each other!
    And maps give you the opportunity to talk about those geographical definitions in context!  Like explaining the Arctic Circle when your country is a part of it. Or explaining the Equator and asking if your theme country tends to be warm or cold after you have pointed out both on the map.
    Or you can use the map for games.  Like “I Spy.”  Granted, kids should be able to at least recognize letters for this.  As in, “I spy a country in Europe that begins with the letter ‘S’.”
    Or make a treasure hunt game on your map, finding locations using the clues north, south, east, and west.
    Combining learning with fun is good for both the student and the teacher!
  4. Lastly, a hands-on craft or project is key for the first-grade age group. This learning-by-doing approach will help them remember highlights and give them another frame of reference.
    If you are short on time, a simple coloring page for that country will do.
    But it’s much better if you can provide a craft on something about the theme country that stands out. And here at Let’s Go Geography, the crafts are planned for you. The majority are just print-and-create crafts, with some basic supplies you probably have on hand.
    This helps them remember things they have learned.  Later when you talk about Greenland and you say, “Remember this country?…It was the week that you made the snowy owl,” their eyes light up because now it clicks.
    Just make sure that they write the name of the country on these projects.  If you’re using Let’s Go, we remind you! This helps them remember the country both when they initially make it AND later when they are looking at all the things in their Geography binders.

A Head Start

Fun and Fascination.  Combine those things for a winning first-grade geography strategy.  It only takes about an hour a week.  And you will give your first-graders a critical head start on the world.

The curriculum at Let’s Go Geography is built on this model, and all the thinking and planning has already been done for you. Check it out at Let’s Go



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Carol Henderson

Carol Henderson is the author of the Let's Go Geography curriculum. She previously homeschooled all 5 of her now-grown kids, and currently teaches several history and geography classes at a large homeschool co-op. After creating and then using her own geography curriculum for several years, she has published it here to share with you!

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