Fun with Geography
by Dennis Peterson
Making long trips by car can be nerve-wracking for adults, especially if they are traveling with children.
“Are we there yet, Daddy?”
“How much longer, Mommy?”
“I’m bored. There’s nothing to do but sit here.”
Sound all too familiar? By the time you reach your destination, you’re ready to pull your hair.
My wife and I discovered a way both to retain our sanity and to keep the children constructively occupied while the children learned valuable geography lessons. We invented travel notebooks.
Because the outward appearance of the notebook can send a message to the child about its importance (or lack thereof!), we decided to make our notebooks very attractive and formal. We purchased for each child a 9 1/2- by 11-inch, two-pocket, three-clip notebook (capacity of 30 to 35 pages). Each child chose her own unique color to aid in rapid identification.
Next, I used my computer to create an attractive title page. Because our trip was to Florida to celebrate the Christmas holidays with my wife’s parents, I titled each notebook “Christmas in Florida: The Florida Vacation of the Peterson Family.” Beneath the title were the words as recorded by followed by the child’s name and the dates of the trip.
The “meat” of the notebook was a series of sections, shown in a table of contents. The first section was a regional map of the southeastern United States titled “The Route We Took.” It included state boundaries, major cities, and the highway routes on which we would travel. The children were to track our route in red as we progressed from point to point. Because they had the map in front of them and could tell by road signs where we were, we eliminated the inevitable questions: “Are we there yet?” “How much farther?”
Next we included a national map with broken lines for state boundaries. Using this map, the children were to identify the home states of passing cars and then color each state according to a color-coded key to ten geographic regions of the United States and Canada. We gave each child her own box of crayons for coloring.
This section proved to be the most enjoyable for the girls as they competed to see which of them would be the first to completely color each region. During the course of the four-day trip, they saw cars from all but six of the states. They also saw cars from Mexico and even South Korea. (I had failed to entertain the possibility of seeing cars from outside the United States.)
The third section was simply 15 to 20 pages of lined notebook paper on which the girls were to list the various places we stopped and to write journal-type entries expressing their thoughts and feelings and recording activities in which they engaged during the trip. One daughter, for example, made the following entries on the first day:
Dec. 17—Saw a skunk at North Carolina welcome center. It walked right in front of the car!
Saw Spanish moss growing on trees along highway in South Carolina.
Saw Atlantic Ocean for the first time at 3:25 p.m.
My wife and I made no attempt to dictate what types of things the girls should include in their journals. They wrote what was of interest to them. Some of them even drew pictures of things they saw.
The last section of the notebook was titled “The Trip in Pictures.” Along the way, we were alert to good subjects for photographs. When the trip was over, the girls gathered around excitedly as we went through the myriad photos from our trip.
“Oh, I remember that!”
“Hey, do you remember what happened when we….”
“I want to use that one of me digging in the sand.”
We had taken more than enough shots of everything, so there was no bickering over who got to use which photos. The problem was narrowing the number to what would best fit into their notebooks.
As we traveled, the girls also gathered an impressive collection of pamphlets, postcards, and informational material about the geography and history of various sites. They organized those and inserted them into the front and back pockets of the notebooks.
The notebook idea was without question the most effective tool we’ve found to ease tensions on long trips and teach geography at the same time. A few years later, when we were preparing for another long trip, the girls were sorely disappointed to learn that I thought they were too old for travel notebooks. Popular demand, however, forced me to make four copies of “Summer in Pennsylvania and New York: The Peterson Family Vacation.” Even now, years after that trip, the girls pull out their notebooks, look at the pictures, and talk about what they learned. It might work for your children too.
Here are a few suggestions for making your own travel notebooks.
- Involve your children in planning and making the notebooks.
- Preview each section with the children after the notebook is assembled so they’ll know what they are to do.
- Set a good example by completing your own notebook as they do theirs.
- Call attention to sights along the way.
- Encourage neatness and pride in accomplishment.
- Provide sufficient time for them to complete their work in the notebooks.
- Take a lot of photos from which they can choose the most meaningful to include in their notebooks.
- Praise their work in the presence of others.
Our travel notebooks made our trip one of the most memorable we’ve taken. Even if the children do forget some aspects of the trip over time, they can always refresh their memories by digging out their notebooks and perusing them again.