• The Spark

Geography on the Go: Travel Activities for Kids

Author:  Andrew Miles, Director, Learning Architecture, Humanities Studio, HMH  | 12/17/2014

Travel

Geography is everywhere (literally). We use GPS on our smartphones and in our cars, check weather maps each morning, and read news from around the globe. Geographic and spatial reasoning skills are fundamental components of education, and they offer a fascinating lens for the study of history, society and culture. When kids use tools like maps and charts, they strengthen problem solving and critical thinking skills – not to mention basic life skills. Geography not only helps us make sense of the world we live in, it offers all of us a greater appreciation of Earth’s diverse environments and cultures.

We’re in the thick of the holiday season, which means that many families are spending more time than usual traveling. Whatever your mode of transportation, holiday travels provide a chance to reinforce some of these key lessons while also making those extra hours at the airport (or in the car!) more fun.

Add a bit of geographic exploration to your holiday travel plans with these simple geography games for kids:

  • Go on a license plate scavenger hunt – If you are driving, make note of the different state license plates you find along your route. Can you find all fifty states? Encourage kids to think regionally about what they are or are not seeing on the road. Flag some questions for a little follow-up research on plate images, colors, and phrases. For example, Massachusetts plates say “The Spirit of America” – why? Use a map to keep track of your findings. You can color code states you’ve seen, or use stickers or stamps.
  • Map your environment with creative cartography – Help kids make a map or chart inspired by your travels, and be creative. There’s more to mapping than topography! Do some observational research. You can focus on waterways, mountains, animals, trees, food or anything else that catches your imagination.  
  • Uncover local history – Whether your holiday destination is in the next town over or across the country, take some time to seek out local history. Check the town center for monuments or other unique buildings. Chances are you’ll learn something new about how the location has evolved. Use online resources like Google Earth to explore the surrounding landscape and talk about your observations.
  • Observe the climate – Have kids take notes on differences in weather depending on location. If you experience drastic climate changes (say you live in Maine and spend the holidays in Florida) think about how people react differently to the weather in each place. Are different clothes or jobs popular? What impact do environmental characteristics have on communities?

Geographic awareness helps us understand the complexities of our physical and social worlds. Take a moment to explore the world with your child and you’re bound to see things in a new light as well.

Wishing safe travels to all!

Andrew Miles is Director of Learning Architecture in the Humanities Studio at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. His work focuses on social studies content development, especially geography!

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