This year we tried a geography supplement that I had always wanted to use. Geography Through Literature is a product put out by Beautiful Feet, which you might recognize as a seller of living books curricula.
Fortunately I had found each of the 4 books needed at book sales for a great price. These gems, however, would be worth the full price! If you are not familiar with Holling C. Holling books, they have a pretty unique approach to describing geography. There are also four beautiful maps to color and fill in as you read through the books.
The curriculum guide also has instructions for each lesson for additional activities. The student is directed to look up and define vocabulary words, research related historical events or explorers, or draw and label various objects in their notebooks. Several other books are referenced and recommended for use as read alouds that complement the study.
We chose to limit ourselves to reading and filling in the maps, since we were working through other history material at the same time. This geography was a great supplement to our year of American history, as it helped flesh out the land we were learning about. My kids loved hearing the books read aloud and pouring over the incredible drawings on every page! Coloring and labeling the maps was a nice hands-on activity, although the kids found shading in the larger spaces a bit tiring at times. We made it into a group effort and all worked together on one set of maps.
Each of the books is a different type of story and highlights a different section of the United States or world. We began with Paddle-to-the-Sea, where a small canoe carved by an Indian boy makes a journey from Lake Superior to the Atlantic ocean, encountering a saw mill, stormy weather, and the Niagara Falls.
My favorite was Tree in the Trail. A young cottonwood tree grows, endures, and finally dies on the Santa Fe Trail. From the arrival of horses on the plains, to Spanish priests, trappers, and then wagon trains, the tree watches as history unfolds around it.
Minn of the Mississippi came next and was the most challenging read because of the detailed description of the Mississippi River. Minn is a snapper turtle that travels all the way down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. We enjoyed learning details about snappers as well as the history of this historically important river.
Seabird was the simpler story of an ivory gull that accompanies a whaling ship through its adventures, then remains an important feature in the lives of four generations of men within a sea-faring family. This one is unique in that the ships sail all over the world, so the geography is not limited to North America.
How We Did It
I scheduled geography for twice a week most of the school year. The only exception was Tree in the Trail, which we included daily as part of our intensive Native American study. We followed the lesson plans in the guide, which gives you 10 lessons per book. All we did was read the selected portion and then break out the colored pencils and thin Sharpie for our mapwork. We kept an atlas handy so we would know exactly what to color and draw (and even then we did make some mistakes along the way!).
I really loved doing this program. The books are extremely well-written and chock-full of interesting details, including information you would likely never find in any other children’s literature. Besides the lovely colored illustrations on every page, there are amazingly detailed pencil and charcoal drawings on the margins, showing diagrams of how things like saw mills, whale ships, and wagon trains operated. You could really spend a lot of time with each book, going more in-depth than we did by researching all the related topics.
The map work was just challenging enough. It required us to study an atlas in order to draw accurately. I think it was a great way to develop a more intuitive feel for geography. It is way more than the names and locations of places; we learned how a river is formed, how people and culture have changed the land over time. There was no memorization involved, but we cover that separately with other resources. I would describe this as a wonderful exposure to geography and land formation, rather than a tool for actually learning geography facts.
If nothing else, make sure you read these books at some point in your homeschool!
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