The Importance of Teaching Geography in Elementary School

In an increasingly interconnected world, understanding geography is more important than ever. Teaching geography in elementary school lays a crucial foundation for students, helping them develop a sense of place, culture, and global awareness. Not only that, but students truly LOVE to learn about their world–and we can make it super fun for them.  Let’s check out a few reasons why teaching geography and mapping skills should be more than just something we squeeze in.

Why teach mapping skills and great geography activities for elementary school

Building “Spatial” or World Awareness

Elementary students are naturally curious about the world around them. Introducing them to geography helps them develop spatial awareness, an important life skills. By learning about maps, directions, and the physical characteristics of different regions, children start to understand their own place in the world. This awareness not only aids in everyday tasks but also fosters a lifelong interest in exploration and discovery.  Technology is making the world “smaller” and more accessible, so we want students to have a foundation to better understand it.

Encouraging Cultural Understanding

Geography lessons go beyond physical landscapes to include the study of diverse cultures and societies. By learning about various countries, traditions, and ways of life, students gain a broader perspective on the world. This cultural understanding promotes empathy and tolerance, key traits in today’s multicultural societies. Early exposure to different cultures can break down prejudices and help children appreciate the richness of global diversity. This is something that is only going to become more important as we educate students to be a part of this global society.

Enhancing Critical Thinking Skills

Studying geography helps develop critical thinking skills. When students explore the reasons behind climate patterns, the distribution of natural resources, or the impact of human activities on the environment, they learn to ask questions, analyze data, and draw conclusions.  At a more simplistic level, we want students to have a foundation of knowledge when they hear things like, “The wildfires in Canada…” or “A volcano in Indonesia…” or “Flooding in Texas…”  By giving students a solid foundation in geography, these news stories have far more meaning.  These skills are transferable to many other areas of learning and are essential for academic success and informed citizenship.

Connecting with Environmental Issues

In a time when environmental challenges such as climate change and habitat destruction are at the forefront of global concerns, understanding geography is crucial. Teaching students about ecosystems, weather patterns, and the interdependence of natural and human systems empowers them to become environmentally conscious citizens. They learn the importance of sustainability and are better prepared to contribute to solutions for global environmental issues.

Supporting Other Areas of Study

Geography intersects with many other subjects, including history, science, and social studies. Teaching geography enhances students’ understanding of historical events and cultural developments. For instance, understanding the geographical context of historical events provides deeper insights into why those events occurred and how they shaped the world. Like I mentioned earlier, understanding geography helps us better understand current events and news stories.  On a personal note, I love looking for setting clues in books and working with students to locate them on maps.  For example, reading “Number the Stars” is SO much less powerful if students don’t understand where Denmark and Sweden are–or where the key events of World War II were happening.  In fact, my students start asking ME where places are that they encounter in books which makes my heart so happy!

Preparing for the Future

As globalization continues to shrink our world, having a solid grasp of geography is essential. Future careers and personal interactions will increasingly require an understanding of the world. Early geography education equips students with the knowledge and skills they need to navigate and succeed in a globalized society, whether they are engaging in international business, participating in cross-cultural exchanges, or simply traveling. The good news is, it can be far more fun than when I grew up!

I thought I’d share a few pictures of some of the fun mapping activities I do with my class, and maybe you’d like to try some too!  Check these out.

Cardinal directions and compass rose lesson

Continents and oceans project
Geography art projects

Landforms lessons and activities

teaching U.S. geography lessons

Maps and globes activities

Continents and oceans lesson

Mapping lessons and activities

Convinced you need to teach mapping skills?

Integrating geography into the elementary school curriculum is not just about learning places on a map. It is about preparing our students for a complex, interconnected world. By providing them with engaging, creative, and meaningful activities, geography education sets the stage for informed and engaged global citizens. Investing in geography education is investing in the future. (Ok, that sounds a little dramatic, but I really believe it!)

Want to try these mapping activities with YOUR class?  Click HERE or any image in the post.  I’d love to hear what you think!

Geography lessons and mapping activities

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Meg