There are so many creative ways to study geography. When my three kids were elementary and middle school age we decided to do a “world tour” in our home school. We made passports, travelled to various countries, read books and studied maps, looked at art and created crafts. At the end of the two weeks we cooked a huge meal with recipes from the country we had just studied and the kids shared their knowledge with my husband, their father. We made displays with our art projects, maps and related discoveries. We told folk tales from the country, and listened to music. The highlight of the evening was the meal, although some meals were definitely better than others. Looking online and talking with friends I realize I am not the only educator to try this, but perhaps by sharing my ideas I can encourage others to start out on their own world adventures. Also for older students or for the interest of the adults, travel literature can increase the fun and learning potential. I no longer home school but reading, learning and trying new foods never gets old.
One year I chose, unwittingly, all of our books that I read aloud to the kids with the same theme, running away. I was not sending any subliminal messages to my kids, I wasn’t desiring to escape my life, I can not say why I ended up choosing these books. It makes sense that if I want to share the joy of reading I should chose books I enjoy or have enjoyed in my childhood. That has been one of the great joys of homeschooling; sharing favorite books and watching my children enjoy them as well. Now they discover and share their favorite books with me, and I am learning about new genres with my three very different young adults.
Before beginning our journey lets read a fun book about that same idea, hitting the road and running away. There are many choices out there depending on age and interest, and of course time. In my year of the runaway we started with “My Side of the Mountain,” by Jean Craighead George, followed by “The Flight of the Doves,” by Walter Macken, “The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” by E L Konigsburg, and “The Hobbit,” by J.R.R. Tolkein.
In geography class we could discuss the reasons for escaping, all of which would be different depending on the book chosen. In “My Side of the Mountain” Sam lives in a very crowded New York City apartment. He wishes to try living on his own, homesteading on his grandfathers abandoned farm. He receives permission from his father, learns wilderness skills from a book and later from a new friend, and really learns through trial and error. Sam enjoys living alone but also discovers the value of companionship with animals and a few very interesting people.
The book won the Newberry Award and was chosen in 2007 by the National Education Association as one of the “teachers top 100 books for children.” After reading the book younger children could study more about falcons and falconry, weasels and raccoons. They could try fishing, carving their own fishing hooks and making traps. There are many references in the book that could be researched, such as Thoreau and his Walden. The book, “A Pocket Guide to the Outdoors: Based on My Side of the Mountain” by Mrs. George and her daughter Twig could enhance the study as well.
The students could plan their own adventures, comparing their choices with Sam’s choices. You could ask questions such as, “Sam took only a few items with him when he left the city, what would you take on your adventure?” All of the studies would include map work, locating real places, perhaps researching average temperatures and weather patterns. Imagine living in a tree without electricity in the winter in the Catskills of New York.
I always enjoy learning about the authors of my favorite books, and Mrs. George was unconventional. Her father was an entomologist for the US Forest Service, and her two brothers became famous naturalists who studied grizzlies in the Yellowstone area. Her website is http://www.jeancraigheadgeorge.com/
I believe the perfect ending to this quick study could be a camping trip to a local state park, or even in your backyard. We grew up camping and I have wonderful memories, more than I could ever relate. But Sam’s adventure was special because he was on his own. Maybe the kids could camp alone, in the back yard or at a campsite separate from yours. Of course that would be a decision each family would have to make on your own family values and abilities. For the family meal you could cook venison and fish, preferably your own. Try to use natural wild ingredients such as local berries and dandelion greens. A little research could help to discover what is available in your area. In my family we ended each study with a family meal and the children shared what they had learned with their dad. You could share a video on falconry; the kids could present information on the different animals or about wilderness survival. Everyone could eat acorn pancakes, dandelion salad and venison steaks or pan fried trout.
I googled acorn pancakes and discovered a variety of recipes and interesting blogs. According to food.com, two acorn pancakes have 431 calories, 258 of them from fat. This was an excellent meal for those wilderness survivors, Native Americans and pioneers, but the calorie count may be a little high for modern man. It was interesting to see how many people this book has influenced, and how many people have tried cooking acorn pancakes. Have any of you ever cooked wild foods like this? How did it turn out? If I have luck with acorns I will post about that next week.
Enjoy the adventure.