A first grade geography curriculum is important because geography is important for kids. It really does rank right up there with telling time or tying shoes. It’s just a necessary skill in today’s global 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. That means geography in first grade!
The Basics for First Grade Geography Curriculum
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.
How to Teach First Grade Geography
So… what is the best way to teach first grade geography?
No, it’s not just memorizing a vocabulary list of geography terms.
And 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. Here are a few things that a good first grade geography curriculum should have:
What to Look for in a Good First Grade Geography Curriculum
- First, the curriculum should show kids actual countries.
Kids should know that other people live in other places that are different from their own. Kids should learn that the world is a very big place with lots of different people, different environments, and different ways of life.
The curriculum should show real people & real places.
Geography for first graders starts within this frame of reference.
- Secondly, the curriculum should keep it short.
It’s first grade, remember? This is not the time to master everything.
Kids just need to see the overall picture of culture, climate, plants & animals, and landmarks of the location.
The high spots. The big ideas.
The curriculum should keep it fun and fascinating, and keep it simple.
- Third, the curriculum needs to have some hands-on activities on each lesson’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 not only show location, they also give the opportunity to talk about geographical terms 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.
Games are also important and can be incorporated with maps. Like playing “I Spy” with different countries on a continent. 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’.”
Combining learning with fun is good for both the student and the teacher!
- Lastly, a hands-on craft or project is key for first-graders. This learning-by-doing approach will help them remember highlights and give them another frame of reference.
So make sure your chosen curriculum incorporates crafts or projects to go along with each theme.
Sometimes a simple coloring page will do. But it’s much better if the curriculum provides a craft on something about the theme country that stands out.
This helps kids 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 will light up because now it clicks.
The crafts & projects at Let’s Go Geography make this geography curriculum unique. And Let’s Go has coloring pages, too.
In Let’s Go Geography, kids finish every lesson with a hands-on activity, and they write the name of the country on these projects. This helps kids remember the country both when they initially make it AND later when they are looking at all the things they have created.
A Winning First Grade Geography Curriculum
Fun and fascination with a few key ingredients. 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!