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?

The Gift of Experience

I swear I’m not a holiday Grinch. I enjoy the warm “fuzzies” that come from giving the perfect gift to a loved one, but I’m tired of the stuff — the piles and messes that clutter my house. My boys may be hoping for cool new clothes or additions to their favorite collections, but this year I want to focus on gifts of experience. In the end, stuff is just stuff, no matter how shiny or trendy it may appear fresh out of the box. Granted, when it comes to kids (and even some adults), it can be hard to get them to see the true value of a gift of experience, rather than things they can wear or show off to their friends.

It’s not just a holiday thing. We’ve long focused on the value of experiences. When my boys were young, we stressed that trips to the zoo, theater or museum were treats, leaving the kids to use gift money or chore money to buy souvenirs on our frequent visits.

On a holiday trip to Puerto Rico a few years ago, we took the boys on a kayaking trip to see the bioluminescent algae — something only visible in a handful of spots on Earth. It was a magical experience. The touristy, gold-plated figurine that my younger son bought broke shortly after we returned home, and the souvenir stuffed animal is making friends with dust bunnies under his bed, but he’s certain to remember our boat trip for years to come.

My boys have come to accept our way of doing things. Maybe someday they’ll actually appreciate it. Right now, they just think we’re stingy and mean.

Gifts of experience create more than memories. For middle and high school students who are exploring their world with increasing independence, the right experiences can open doors. At that stage of life, they are ripe for discovering that thing — that passion that might shape their future career or lead to a lifelong hobby.

Build a Skill

  • You can’t go wrong with a cooking class. Your child will eat for the rest of his life, right? Never mind becoming a chef, knowing how to make a delectable dish or two might help your child woo that special someone.
  • Spending a day at a rally driving school was one of the most fun experiences of my adult life. Sending your recently licensed teen to a special driving school where they can practice skid control and emergency breaking might be a lot of fun for him, and it might help you earn a discount on his auto insurance as well.
  • Follow your child’s lead and choose a class, camp or outing based on her interests. Think photography, rock climbing, sports camp, space camp or computer camp.

Launch a Career

For kids who are beginning to explore careers, consider a behind-the-scenes tour at a favorite museum or zoo, a tour of the local television station, or whatever aligns with the job of their choice. If such a tour does not exist, perhaps you can arrange a job shadow day with someone in their chosen career field.

When I was a teen, my parents arranged for me to spend a day with our dog’s veterinarian. It made me realize that I didn’t want to be a vet. Eliminating potential careers can help lead to the right one.

Help a Community

Teens can get so caught up in their own worlds that they lack an understanding of the world around them. They get caught up in comparing themselves to their peers rather than focusing on their own fortune. Travel blogger Jen Miner has taken “volunteer vacations” with her family that combine interesting travel with volunteer work in communities abroad. She shares tips on selecting the right opportunity for your family.

A gift of experience might be hard to wrap or place under the tree, but it’s something your child will never forget. Do you think your child would enjoy a gift of experience?