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How to do Frugal Charlotte-Mason-Style Geography

“Who’s Charlotte Mason?”, you may be wondering.

I’ve written a bit about this before, but the Charlotte Mason method is based on the idea that children learn best from real books, not textbooks, and that workbooks are probably not the best way to help children remember what they’re learning. I use a Charlotte Mason approach when we learn about art, and we’re also utilizing that approach to learn about the United States.

The backbone of our “curriculum” for this study is made up of books from the library (yay for free!). Our library has several different series of children’s geography books, and we’ve been systematically checking them out as we work our way through the states.

I read these state books out loud to all 4 of the kids. Joshua obviously is soaking in more of this information than Zoe is, but I still think it’s valuable for her to be there. In fact, I’m usually pleasantly surprised to hear how much the littler ones are picking up and remembering.

As we read, I ask my kids questions to get them to talk about what they’re hearing (like, “Why do you think that Illinois has so much farmland and Colorado doesn’t?). If I’ve been to a particular state, I tell them what it was like. If we know someone who lives in a state, I point that out. We talk about the topography and the population, and compare these things to states we’ve studied previously.

We also usually get our well-loved state puzzle out so that the kids can get a good idea of how our current state compares to other states and so that they can see the states that border it.

After we’ve finished reading a state book, we get out pencils, crayons, markers, and paper, and all 4 kids work on making a “state paper”.

We write the state name at the top of the paper and trace the state puzzle piece. After that, we draw various things we learned about that state….the state flower and tree, the state flag, what the state produces, some of its landmarks, and so on.

This is Sonia’s Illinois paper…do notice the upside-down John Deer tractor. 😉 I think she accidentally turned her paper around when she was drawing that.

The building on the left there is the Sears Tower (oh, sorry…the Willis Tower), and you can see she remembered that Illinois has lots of farms, that it produces wheat and corn (that’s a pot full of corn there with corn sticking out of the bottom. Hmm.), that the BlackHawks play in Chicago, and that the state tree is the white oak and the state flower is a violet.

The point of this is not to produce perfect drawings, but to help my children remember what they’re learning. Reading, discussing, and drawing all help new information stick in their minds.

To keep our state papers organized, we put the state papers in a 3-ring binder (each kid has their own).

We also sometimes prepare a food that a state is famous for (bratwust for Wisconsin, crab cakes for Maryland, etc.) We also play some fun online state quiz games. This one is easy enough for Sonia and this one is more Joshua and Lisey’s speed.

One of the best things about this method is that it doesn’t even really feel like school. I often read state books to the kids while they eat their lunch, and our discussions feel as natural as any lunch conversation does. And when we get out drawing materials, it doesn’t feel like painful work…they usually have fun drawing the things they remember and they’re usually excited to show their drawings to Mr. FG when he gets home from work.

And of course, you can’t beat the fact that this course of study costs almost nothing. The books from the library are free, we already have an overabundance of pencils, markers, and crayons, and the cost of 4 pieces of paper is negligible.

Ah yes…when frugal, fun, and educational meet, I’m a happy girl.

Today’s 365 post: The promised pictures of my new little niece!

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Connie Seward

Monday 13th of August 2012

I am almost 47 years old and my children are pretty well grown, but Kristen, when I read your posts about homeschooling, I so want to have more kids and homeschool them. It just seems like the best thing ever.

Keep up the great work. I know it's not as easy as it seems.

Victoria Smith

Monday 10th of January 2011

Thanks so much for posting this. I am also using Charlotte Mason methods for our homeschool. I planned to go through the states next year and this looks simple and fun.


Sunday 28th of November 2010

I love teaching my boys like this. We are in the UK and do a similar idea for the countries of the world. We look at the location, shape, language, culture, food, flag and animals of each country. Then the boys make a page up with their most important facts. We then have some dishes from that country for our dinner. My boys are not home schooled (I wish they were) but I am always complemented by their teachers on their outstanding knowledge of the world.


Friday 26th of November 2010

So nice to see the mention of Charlotte Mason as I used this approach when I taught my daughter. WOuld you have any interest in 8 back issues of The Parents Review published by Karen Andreola. . My daughter is now in college and I just found these issues while cleaning out the attic. Let me know


Thursday 25th of November 2010

Go Blackhawks! I like that it was noted! Let us know when you get to Minnesota! : )

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