Thursday, October 30, 2014

Geography with Challenge A - a "how to"

I wrote in this post, Challenge A Geography, about my daughter's Geography in Challenge A, and posted photos of her maps.  I thought I'd write a new post about how she does Geography in Challenge A.

The Challenge A guide breaks up each country or continent into week blocks.  The first two weeks, the students studied Canada.  The next two weeks they studied the U.S.  Each country segment is broken up like this -

1. Students may trace their first map for the week's assignment
2. Students should draw 3 more maps freehand, by looking at either a flat map or an atlas and drawing what they see.
3. Once they've gotten more than 2 countries, they are also challenged with drawing one map every 1-2 weeks that incorporates all past countries with the current one.  This way they practice scaling, and putting everything together for the big picture.
4. The first week, the students learned and labeled all countries/states/provinces/territories and their capitals.  The second week, students added in features such as major lakes, rivers, and mountains.
5. Occasionally, the students are asked to color their maps.  I love the colored maps; it is so aesthetically pleasing to the eye!

Yes, it is a huge task, but the students are encouraged to aim high, and see how much they can do.  Whatever they are capable of is celebrated.  And usually what they are capable of is greater than what they (and their parents) thought they were capable of.  Now, sometimes the lesson has to get tweaked.  This is the parent's job, and the tutor supports the parent in this.  Some kids are perfectionists, so they might need to make their maps blobby, and focus less on the perfection of each squiggly curve.  Some kids (ahem, boys) draw very general boxy maps, and this is OK, too.  The main goal is that the student is getting a picture in their mind of a map every time a place is mentioned.

I'm seeing this "map in the brain" in my daughter.  She quite frequently pipes up with a correction (because I truly know less than she does about Geography now) or a little tidbit about a country and its features.

How do they draw?
That is the question I stressed myself about all summer long.  I combed Leigh Bortin's book The Core, chapter 7 Geography.  Although it is an excellent read for incorporating Geography in the homeschool, I can't say it answered all my questions about how to draw.  The important point is that the student draws.

In Foundations at CC, kids spend 6 weeks learning about basic drawing and OiLS.  This is intended to help at the Challenge level, when students now need to look at a map and copy the basic shapes on paper.  I personally found the upside down drawing exercises to be helpful.  Our Foundations drawing lessons come from a small chunk of the book Drawing with Children. All of this is helpful, however, I'm finding that the Real Trick to it all is -

Sit down with a map, a pencil, and a piece of paper.
Draw what you see.  It'll be hideous, at first.  Keep practicing!  It gets better!

And I think that is the secret heart of Leigh Bortin's Chapter 7 Geography.

Finding your own method
I find that every student develops their own method.  My daughter has a 1 inch grid that she draws on her map and then she made her own 1 inch grid paper that she draws her maps on.  I try to get a good sense of the general shape, and then each shape inside of that shape.  When I draw the U.S., I start at Vermont/New Hampshire, and draw up (Maine), and then down (East Coast, and then towards the middle).  I try to think of what each shape looks like (New York looks like a sideways candle, Maryland looks like a funky gun; although my class of 6-7 year olds call it a fox).  Other students might blob their shapes, making very general shapes (circles, squares, blobs).  Whatever the method, the map will look better after a few attempts.

I especially like that it doesn't have to be a costly curriculum.  Paper, pencil, and a map are easy and cheap to come by.  I also recommend relaxing and enjoying the process: listen to good music, drink hot cocoa, and set out a snack.  It can be a time of quiet contemplation as you tackle the map, or a time of conversation with kids, as everyone sits and draws (hopefully that conversation isn't full of complaining).
My daughter's combined map of Canada, U.S., and Central America.  It isn't perfect (she was feeling done for the day).
Some of you want more, right?  Here are some links to articles and videos you might find helpful:

The Core Chapter 7 Geography article on Classical Conversations

Mahalo Draw the USA video series

Half A Hundred Acre Wood Continental Blob Maps

Note: The Core and Drawing with Children links are affiliate links with Amazon. If you click the link and purchase at Amazon, I receive a small fee.  However, if you have a good library system, you may find these titles at your local library.  If you live in Michigan and your library is enrolled in the Mel system, you can find The Core through MelCat.


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