What’s the first subject that springs to your mind when chatting with friends over coffee about what you’ll be teaching your preschooler this year?

Is it perhaps identifying ABCs and building foundational reading skills?

Learning to write their name?

Gaining math skills like recognizing numbers, counting, and understanding time?

Exploring their world through hands-on science or outdoor nature studies?

Learning about history?

Coming to know your family’s values and faith?

These are the typical skills, subjects, and kinds of knowledge that many homeschool moms would consider foundational for the preschool years.

So why geography? And how in the world do you teach geography to a preschooler?

Why geography?

Charlotte Mason (a Victorian-era educator) stated that “the peculiar value of geography lies in its fitness to nourish the mind with ideas and furnish the imagination with pictures.”*

One of the current prevailing trends in many home education philosophies is the early and rigorous study of history. While history is a worthy pursuit and equips our children to be excellent citizens, we often overlook the foundation for what creates a healthy and eager history student: geography.

History is the study of past events, typically from a worldwide perspective. But how can our young students understand the scope of Columbus’ travels, the battles of the Peloponnesian Wars, the dangers of traveling the Silk Road, or the significance of da Gama’s tumultuous route to India if they do not first have a foundational grasp of the vastness of the world?

When we study the explorations of da Gama, for instance, how much richer and livelier is that discussion when our children already understand the geography, inhabitants, and religious practices of the people of India? How much more can they imagine da Gama’s first impressions, interactions, and experiences if we have gone beforehand and shared vivid images and interesting stories from the people of that nation?

But how do I teach geography to a preschooler?

Often, when we think of geography studies, we think of the compass rose, continent names, and the dry digestion of facts. But there is a better way, my friend!

Charlotte Mason continues on in Home Education, saying,

“For educative purposes, the child must learn such geography, and in such a way, that his mind shall thereby be stored with ideas, his imagination with images; for practical purposes, he must learn such geography only as, the nature of his mind considered, he will be able to remember; in other words, he must learn what interests him. . . . Give him next intimate knowledge, with the fullest details, of any country or region of the world, any county or district of his own country. . . . every illustrative anecdote, every bit of description, is so much towards the child’s education. Here, as elsewhere, the question is, not how many things does he know, but how much does he know about each thing.”

Our goal in introducing our preschoolers to geography is therefore not limited to teaching geography—but rather is expanded to showcasing the diversity, beauty, and intricacies of the world as a whole: Animals. People. Foods. Languages. Habits. Beliefs. Biomes. Terrain.

Collectively, these facets create a culture so intimately tied to a country’s geography that it cannot really be studied separately. Pondering India as a two-dimensional outline on a map is one way. But consider having your imagination filled with beautiful images, delicious aromas, intriguing facts, and a new language. This is a living geography education—one that engages and enlivens the mind and heart as one.

Tools for the journey

We all know our preschoolers are short on attention. But what they lack in focus, they make up for greatly in curiosity. It doesn’t take much to engage preschoolers in a thorough, rich exploration of geography and culture. To do so, you need three basic things:

  1.  Images. Preschoolers are innately visual, and colorful, engaging images bring any topic to life in their minds. Magazines, books, slideshows, or videos fill their imaginations with a rich feast as you read living stories or listen to traditional music.
  2. Chants or Songs. Preschoolers love rhythm and moving their bodies—we can barely get them to sit still! Very few things engage us in a culture more than traditional music and unique instruments. Listening to songs, playing instrumental sounds, or chanting interesting facts about the country’s geography help to embed those experiences into their little hearts and minds.
  3. Stories. It is one thing to read a list of facts about a country. It’s an entirely different experience to read books that take us into a new world, allow us to embark on adventures we’ve never conceived of, and face exotic animals or daring challenges we’ve never imagined. Not only do wonderful stories foster imaginative play and nurture the moral imagination, but a living story (or living book**) also shares accurate insights into the authentic experiences of the culture about which we are reading.

If you need a place to start the search for a comprehensive, engaging geography preschool curriculum, check out my resources at GentleClassical.com! I truly hope that you’ll consider introducing the intentional study of culture and geography into the early years with your young students. Their eagerness and curiosity to explore make the preschool years the ideal time for journeying around the world through images, music, and story.