Here we go again… geography! I started working on North American Geography with my son long before the block began. We read a wonderful book about Florida while on summer vacation (more on that later), and I had a project for him at the beginning of the school year. We looked at a map of North America and he picked out five places that seemed interesting to him. Then we composed a letter for him to write to the tourism bureau of each city. I had him copy one letter each week. This was a great way to teach writing a business letter and addressing an envelope. He was thrilled to receive packages of brochures in the mail. When the brochures arrived in the mailbox, we would go through them together and explore someplace new. My son still keeps these treasures in a basket beneath his bed… evidently they are great for bedtime reading.
The business letter read:
Dear Sir or Madam:
I am researching different areas of North America for my geography class. I would be very appreciative if you would send me any literature that you have for free distribution.
A couple of sweet folks even took the time to include a hand-written letter in return.
During a grammar block, he wrote another business letter to an author of his choice. It was difficult to find one alive! He decided to write to Peter Arenstam, author of Nicholas: A Massachusetts Tale (more about that book below). Sadly, that letter was never answered.
Okay. Let’ s get on with the geography…
To start off the block, we looked at a map of North America and figured out which land masses are considered a part of the continent. We talked about how the continent was formed. Glaciers, volcanoes, continental shifts and the like. We talked about the different regions. Where are the deserts? Glaciers? Tropics? Mountains? We looked a little more closely at the mountains and talked about the difference between the major ranges. He spent a good deal of time on this map. At least a week. He used the grid method to carefully draw the continent, then watercolor pencils for the color. Finally, he added the compass.
The Mississippi River! It is fun to learn to spell that one! I taught my son about the beloved Sam Clemens (Mark Twain). We read A Brilliant Streak by Kathryn Lasky. I liked this book a lot. It was a great length for school. I think we read it in a day or two. The story focused mostly on his younger years, and my son had a deep connection with the man. And most helpfully, the book spends a good deal of time devoted to Clemens’ love of the Mississippi River. That led us to the geography! We looked at the geography of the great river. How long? How wide? How does it change course and why? What plants and trees grow along its banks? How did the river affect the growth of our young nation? What is the state of the Mississippi today? I used the book Draw 50 Boats, Ships, Trucks, and Trains to help us draw the steamship. It is not a great book, but it got the job done.
A longer book about Mark Twain is The Trouble Begins at 8 by Sid Fleischman. My daughter delighted in quoting Mark Twain for months after reading this book!
My mom has a house in Florida, so we have the luxury of spending a few weeks there every summer. During summer vacation before fifth grade, we read the brilliant book called Journeys with Florida’s Indians by Kelly Weitzel. My son and I loved, loved, loved this book! It is a wonderful mix of historical fiction and archeological studies of the Florida Native Americans. There was plenty of interaction between the characters and the environment around them. The flora, fauna, and climate all play central roles to the story. How did the Native people deal with hurricanes? This story will tell you. The story begins with a young Paleo-Indian boy on a mammoth hunt. What more can I say?
Since we were visiting Florida, we went on a sea life tour to explore the waters and mangroves of Florida. You might be able to see the occasional yellow leaf in the mangrove trees in our pictures. That is because each mangrove tree has a yellow leaf or two. The yellow leaf absorbs the salt from the water to keep the rest of the leaves healthy. Really!
Now we began our study of the Northeast with the story of Johnny Appleseed. He was such a lively character, that we enjoyed him almost as much as Mark Twain. We followed his travels and drew a map. This was a carefully drawn freehand map. I showed him how we could do it by lightly sketching the rough shape of the coast with a golden block crayon, then we used a golden stick to outline the states, drew in the Great Lakes, the rivers, and finally added the names. I think this map took two or three days for him to complete. We enjoyed reading The True Tale of Johnny Appleseed.
I don’t know how, but I think we may have spent three weeks on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The book took longer than expected to read, I guess? I really am not sure how it happened, but it is a fantastic story.
Our studies were based largely on the book Sacagawea by Joseph Bruchac. This is another family favorite. He spent a lot of time composing his writing, so I guess this long block was worthwhile!
Below are photos of my daughter’s North America main lesson book from a few years ago. She started off by describing what exactly comprises North America, and she was given some vocabulary words related to geography to define.
She also studied the Lewis and Clark expedition:
And the land of California, where we explored the unique geography and the California Gold Rush.
In many of our North American geography lessons, we explored what life was like when the Native Americans lived in the region. An excellent resource book for this is Man in Nature by Carl Sauer. It is long out of print, but it is my favorite geography book!
We also looked at the geography of the Northeast. I believe we checked read about the natives and the land from Man in Nature, and I showed her some highlights from library books. We talked about maple syrup, fall leaves, and how cranberries are harvested.
She also read a series of four books, beginning with Nicholas: A Massachusetts Tale. She enjoyed the series very much.
And finally, we tried to study the geography of Colorado while we were there in the summer, but the mountains and rivers kept calling us outside, so we didn’t get anything more than a map for the main lesson book.
Here are some of my drawings from these blocks: