Family Fun With Geography

We’re all familiar with old-fashioned spelling bees. In fact, most adults can still remember THE word that knocked them out of the contest back in the day. (For me, it was “restaurant” back in fifth grade.) But have you ever been in a geography bee or had fun with geography? I don’t recall participating in such an event, but in their early elementary years, my boys’ school participated in the National Geographic Bee.

They answered questions like these practice items listed on the National Geographic website.

As young students, my boys didn’t go deep, but the geography bee did spur them to crack open our dusty atlases and do a little online research. The competition demanded greater preparation at the regional and state levels, but my boys never make it that far. Still, it was a fun way to get them exploring topics that weren’t covered in class.

In an increasingly global marketplace, it’s crucial that our children have a deep understanding of the world around them. It’s odd that geography is often taught as little more than memorizing continents and states. Geography also entails understanding maps, borders, topography, climate and their populations (human and otherwise).

Geography is increasingly high-tech, relying on sophisticated geographic information systems, with sophisticated imaging, data collection and analysis (computer and math skills are key in the 21st century!) to understand and solve global problems.

Geo Whiz

If it’s too late for your child to participate in this year’s Geo quiz, it just means you have lot of time to prepare for next year’s competition. Or just explore these sites with your children from home, because the world is a really interesting place. It’s even more so when data is sliced and diced and layered onto interactive maps that invite you to examine population trends, ecological issues, the spread of diseases, distribution of wealth or a host of other factors. It’s fascinating!

Try these for starters:

Make it Personal

Try your family’s hand at geocaching, a modern treasure hunt that uses longitude and latitude to find hidden caches. Whether using an old-fashioned compass or a Global Positioning Satellite or an app to guide you, geocaching can help you get to know local terrain, burn a few calories and have fun while building geography skills.

Ditch the Apps for Maps

OK, so you didn’t walk two miles uphill to school while barefoot in the middle of winter like your parents allegedly did, but you can spin a yarn about what is was like to take your turn as family navigator during an old-fashioned road trip. Regale your children with tales of not only using a paper map but also getting the darn thing folded back into its original shape.

Has your child ever participated in a geography bee or had fun with geography?

Learning a Second Language Isn’t Easy

Both of my boys, 9 and 5, are now fluent in both Spanish and English, at least age-appropriately so, and there is one thing I keep hearing that has started to bother me. In fairness, I think I may have said it once or twice in the past myself, so please don’t think I’m getting all “high and mighty” about it.


We may say it in different ways and, of course, none of us means to be bothersome, but here is an example of how the conversation might go:


The scene: My boys and I are walking down the street together, and an acquaintance greets us on the street.

“Wow, your boys just spent an entire school year in Mexico! They must be fluent in Spanish?”

“Yes, yes, they are.”

“Well, it’s easier for them, isn’t it?”


(Insert awkward silence here.)


Yes, children under a certain age do have an amazing facility for language acquisition.

But no, the problem with the statement about being “easier” is that it’s one of those strange examples of when the actual words spoken are truer than what’s meant by them. As the conversation continues, as it always does, it becomes abundantly clear that what many folks mean by, “It’s easier for them,” is “It is easy for them,” and to that I take exception.


Learning a second language is many things, but for most of us, including kids, it’s not easy.

As for my boys, yes, they improved by leaps and bounds. Yes, they absorbed vocabulary and syntax like sponges. Yes, they appeared less self-conscious about making mistakes than many adolescents and adults do when they learn a new language.


Was it valuable? Was it enriching? Yes and yes! But was it easy?

They worked diligently to achieve what they did, every day, all day, day after day, and eventually even in their dreams at night. For months, they endured moments of awkwardness, misunderstanding, confusion and probably embarrassment, like any language learner does. Most days, they were tenacious, unrelenting, resilient and amazing. On a few, they were exhausted, resistant and frustrated. Both boys gave a herculean effort, and they triumphed.


Was it worth it?

There’s a quotation attributed to Nelson Mandela: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

My boys can now tell all their grandparents they love them in their grandparents’ own languages. They’ve sung in a Spanish choir and have probably increased their job prospects.


They tell funny jokes and laugh at the jokes of others in both languages. They don’t confuse the languages; they speak both as well as their peers, save for the most precocious. They are doing well in school and switch languages when appropriate. They can speak to 400 million more people than they could 12 months ago.


So if you want your kids to take on the task of learning a second language, tell them all the above. But there’s no point in telling them it’s easier for them while they are young, it won’t help when they are doing the hard work.