History and geography can be dull and boring, but they don’t have to be! When my 3 year old daughter (M) started showing an interest in maps, I decided it would be fun to find hands-on, interactive ways for her to explore places around the world. We can’t just hop on a plane and visit all of these places (I wish)!
Start from the basics – what is a map? What do we use maps for? Go out in your community and collect some maps (try the zoo, museums, state or national parks, and maps of your town or state). Make maps of a room, your house, or your street. Make it fun! Use a map of your house to hide “treasure” or set up a scavenger hunt.
Leave a globe and maps out for exploration. I love interactive globes and maps that kids can use on their own. M likes randomly selecting places on her globe and listening to facts about those locations. She also loves to locate places we have visited or states where family and friends live on her USA wall map.
Small World Play
Kids learn through play. It’s that simple! I can literally see the wheels turning in M’s head as she explores new ideas through play. I am trying to collect lots of miniature figures that relate to the topics we are learning about. Making figures out of play-doh, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, or any other materials you have around the house is great too!
It certainly doesn’t have to be elaborate. M’s “worlds” tend to expand as she plays. I stay nearby and she occasionally asks questions or requests new materials. The Africa bin below started with Mt. Kilimanjaro and a few animals, but she said the animals needed food and water, so we added different colors of play-doh and water beads. She also added a Lego jeep so one of her figures could go on a safari, and she acted as the tour guide pointing out all of the animals they would see.
Read Engaging Books
When you’re learning about continents or countries around the world, it’s tempting to stock up on nonfiction books with facts about those places. Those are nice to have, and I still borrow a few from the library for my own sake, but they aren’t all that interesting for most kids. When I borrow nonfiction books, I try to use them simply as a reference to guide us with different activities – like showing M the colors of an emperor penguin to help her with her project.
I have been so much more successful in piquing M’s interest with children’s literature that takes place in different countries or references different cultures. These stories are more engaging for her age group, and provide the perfect opportunities to bring up additional facts and ideas when she is already interested.
Cook Your Way Around the World
I’ll be honest. M isn’t the most adventurous eater these days. But, she loves to cook! Even if she won’t taste all of the different foods we make, she is still able to see, touch and smell all kinds of ingredients and new foods. Plus, she is learning about kitchen safety, following directions, measuring, temperatures, time, and more! I encourage her to try at least one bite of everything we make, and she has liked several dishes she thought she wouldn’t!
Celebrate International Holidays
Every culture has their own celebrations, and who doesn’t love a party? Holidays are the perfect excuse to learn about new places. You could choose a holiday that is celebrated in many places around the world, like Christmas or New Year, and compare how different cultures celebrate. Or, you can find holidays that are specific to certain regions and learn about the history and traditions associated with that holiday. There are so many great options!
We recently celebrated Chinese New Year as we learned about Asia.