A r c h i v e d I n f o r m a t i o n
Early Childhood: Where Learning Begins Geography--January 1999
Where Is It?
The first theme geographers use is location. This tells us exactly where in the world something is. Just as your home has a street address, every place has a ''global address'' identified by latitude and longitude. If you know these numbers and how to use them, you can find any place in the world and give its absolute location. (For definitions, see the glossary at the end of this booklet.)
Geographers also ask why things are located in particular places. How do these places influence our lives? For example, Baltimore, Maryland, was founded at 39.3o (degrees) orth latitude and 76.6o (degrees) West longitude on an inland harbor. It is a major shipping port for the eastern seaboard with direct land routes by train and highway to cities throughout the United States. Many people who live in Baltimore are involved in waterfront activities such as shipping, loading, and fishing.
Very young children will not be able to understand concepts like latitude and longitude, or even left and right. However, young children learn body awareness--the shape of the body and how much space it takes up, where the different body parts are, how the body moves and rests, how the voice is a part of the body. This is the beginning of an understanding of location.
Young children learn that they relate to other people and physical things. To help young children learn location, make sure they know the color and style of the building in which they live, the name of their town, and their street address. Then, when you talk about other places, they have something of their own with which to compare.
Concepts of location begin early in life. By age 2, children are able to distinguish between objects that are near and can be grasped, and those that are farther away. They can notice features of their immediate surroundings, such as the bedroom or yard.
The idea of direction is a difficult concept. Children develop the concept of direction through experiences such as climbing, jumping, running, and rolling around. Children need to physically experience themselves in space. First, children need to develop body awareness; to understand where their body is in a room, including its size and level (upright, crawling or stooping, or on the floor); how the body's different parts are put together with wriggling wrists and wobbling ankles, and how to move in directions like forward, backward, or sideways. When they know how their body moves, they will have the basis for learning precise directions and locations later in life. The more opportunities children have to run and move about, the greater their ability to keep track of position and location.
Children with disabilities have a special need to experience space, direction, and location. Even when using a wheelchair, children can play simple dancing games that help them orient themselves in space. They can take field trips into the community and use maps to follow directions.
- Give toddlers a lot of opportunities to run about and explore their environment.
- Babies love to play ''So Big.'' When you ask them how big they are they raise their hands over their heads and everyone says, ''So Big.'' Now that they are older, ask toddlers to make themselves very tall or very small by standing on tip toes, or stooping down.
- Have toddlers play at moving in different directions, like backward, forward, or sideways. A simple game to play is ''Mother, May I.'' To play, stand at the opposite end of a room from your children. Take turns having them ask, ''Mother, may I''. . . jump two steps. . . or hop quickly. . . or take one big step. After you say, ''Yes, you may,'' they take the requested steps. The first to reach you is the winner.
- Give toddlers discarded cardboard boxes to climb in and out of, get under, put things in, and play with. Talk about what they are doing: ''Where are you? Oh, you are under the box!'' Parents can participate too. ''Daddy's feet are in the box!''
- Let your toddler play with pots and pans or plastic kitchen containers, fitting them together and putting them away. They will become familiar with shapes and sizes, as well as concepts like in and on.
- Children need to understand positional words. You can teach these by involving them in household tasks. Teach children a lot of positional words like above and below in a natural way when you talk with them or give them directions. When picking up toys to put away say, ''Please put your toys into the yellow basket'' or ''Put the green washcloth into the drawer.'' Words that describe features such as color, size, and shape are also important.
- When looking through books, point out where objects are, like a teddy bear sitting on the bed.
Ideas of direction develop gradually through preschoolers' experiences. Try some of the following activities to introduce terms of direction:
- Use words left and right in connection with real situations. Play circle games like ''Sally Go Round the Moon'' or ''The Hokey Pokey.'' ''Start with your right foot.'' To make this easier, you can put a felt marker dot, or a bracelet or string, on one of your child's hands. Find ways to modify the games for children with disabilities so they can experience themselves in space.
- When you go somewhere, use directional terms. ''We'll turn right here.'' ''Shawndra's house is three blocks from us, so we have to look for the gas station. That is where we turn left.''
- You can get your child to understand ideas like north, south, east, and west, by pointing out that the kitchen is always sunny in the mornings because it faces east and that is where the sun comes up. Or, you might sit on the stoop to catch the afternoon sun because the sun sets in the west.
- Help increase your children's vocabulary by using pictures from books and magazines so they can associate words with visual images. A picture of a desert can get you started talking about the features of a desert--not much water, not many green trees. Talk with your children to help them find more detailed words to describe different natural and cultural features.
- When you go outside, look back at your home and ask your children to point to where they live. Can they find their room? When you walk across the street, look back and ask again if they can point to their home.
- On a walk around your neighborhood point out other signs that indicate location. There are street signs and numbers on apartments and homes. Ask your children how a friend would find your home if they didn't have a number or street name.
Maps represent the real world. Young children won't fully understand maps until they are much older. However, without a foundation from their own experiences, children will not develop into successful map readers or users when they are older. Personal experience helps children understand maps and how they use symbols, which can be introduced to children when they are quite young.
Before children can learn to use maps, they must understand that maps are tools to help us find where we are and where we are going. They need to know that maps and globes use other symbols and the concept of scale. They are pictures from a ''bird's eye view,'' and reduce the size of an actual place.
- Toddlers can't use maps. But they can become familiar with the idea that maps help people locate themselves in space. Just as they know that books have symbols that represent words, they can understand that maps and globes have symbols that represent things in the physical world. Symbols have meaning. Colors, lines, and markings on a map stand for something.
- Let your children see you reading maps and using globes. They should become familiar objects in your home.
- Keep a globe or a map of the United States near the television and use it to locate places talked about on television programs, or to follow the travels of your favorite sports team. Very young children won't be able to fully understand globes, but they will become familiar objects.
- Point out signs that indicate location. In a store or other public place there will be entrance and exit signs, and signs that indicate stairs, escalators, and elevators. Many signs use symbols. Point them out and talk about them. In elevators or other places, show children how people with visual impairments use Braille signs.
- Look at videos or photographs of yourself and your children. Point out how much smaller everyone looks than they really are. A map is like a photograph. A photograph represents you, only it is smaller. A map represents a large area, but it is small.
- Give children all kinds of blocks and boxes with which to play. You can put paper signs on blocks to show where the toy store or their house would be. When they pretend that the blocks represent objects, they are beginning to understand how people use symbols.
- By the time children are four and five years old some can use a simple map to locate an object. They understand that maps represent reality. They also can develop beginning ideas of scale, symbols, and perspective, and the idea that maps are tools people use to locate themselves in space. Put your child's natural curiosity to work. Even small children can learn to read simple diagrams or plans of their homes, or maps of their bedrooms, school, neighborhood, and community.
- When your children play with toy trucks and cars they are learning the use of symbols. Take advantage of this opportunity, and either draw a rough map of a highway, a city, or a park over which they can run their trucks, or pretend that things around your house are trees or fields.
- Point to symbols you use in your daily life. For example, you stop at a red light, and go on the green. Red means stop, green means go.
- If you are upstairs in a building, look out the window and ask your children how the world below looks. Is it small? The higher up you go, the smaller things on the ground appear, just like looking at a map.
- Before taking a trip, use a map to show your children where you are going and how you plan to get there. On the map, point out other routes you could take and talk about why you decided to use a particular route.
- Encourage children to draw and make their own maps. They can draw make believe maps of places they have visited or just imagined. They can use felt markers--but let them use blocks and milk cartons as well, for a three--dimensional approach. Children may build, draw, or paint maps well before they are able to read them.
- Go on a walk and collect natural materials such as acorns and leaves to use for an art project. Map the location where you found those items.
- Many games use maps of journeys. Some libraries will lend games as well as books.
- If you go for a walk in a state or national park, get a map of the pathways and let your child carry it around and ''consult'' it.
- Work jigsaw puzzles of the United States or the world. Through the placement of puzzle pieces, children can feel and see where one place is located in relation to others.
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