At Home with the Classical Method — How to Teach (& Learn) Geography

Oh boy, is this a weak area of mine. I’ve often felt lost in my own county (okay, even the mall), because I am lacking a mental map.  My husband on the other hand loves maps and is great at geography.  He easily forms mental maps of new areas.  Think those characteristics are connected? Yeah, me too.  Like my husband, we want our littles to understand geography and learn mental map making.  And it’s not too late for me either!  I’ll be learning geography right beside them. 

Today, as part of the At Home with the Classical Method series, I’ll share the classical ideas for teaching geography found in The Core.  Leigh Bortins challenges parents to help their children form mental world maps.  Why? “Having a basic map in our heads helps us to form accurate images of international conflicts or relive adventures with historical heroes or sympathize with the plights of man beset by natural disasters.” (p. 149)  Those are worthwhile goals!  

How do we get started?  With basic cartography; drawing maps with your child using an atlas for reference, blank paper, and a pencil. “Good education sets the bar high while giving students the practical tools to complete a goal.” (p.151)  The Core gives a simple progression for learning maps through drawing:

1. Make your own grid by folding a blank 8.5 by 11″ paper in half lengthwise and then draw a line down the crease.  This is your equator.  Next draw four lines representing the other great circles.  Label the circles — initials for younger children; full names for older children.

Repeat until easy.

2.  Do step 1 and add the Prime Meridian down the center of the page.  Adjust location, as necessary, to duplicate the map you’re using.  

3. Do steps 1-2 and add “continental blobs” starting with Africa in the center of the map.  Starting with Africa helps keep the other continents proportional.  Continue by adding general outlines of the remaining continents.  Pay attention to where they cross the great circles and lie in relation to each other.  But, don’t fret: “No perfection needed.” 

4. Repeat steps 1-3.  Now label the oceans.

Continue to practice all above steps until “fairly accurate.”  Be sure to check against a map to correct any errors.  This will be the same basic plan for each part of the map you’re learning.  

Start with the gist and move to the details. For example, for each continent, start with the outline, next add the countries, and finally add any rivers, mountains, and bodies of water. 

With each area, you’re starting with copywork and moving to memory work.  

The Core‘s plan provides for practicing the following areas once weekly for a year:

Kindergarten:      Great circle grid and continental blobs
First grade:         Australia
Second grade:     South America
Third grade:        Africa
Fourth grade:      North America
Fifth grade:         Europe
Sixth grade:        Asia
Seventh grade:   World Map
Eighth grade:      Indonesia and Antartica

If you’re starting later than kindergarten, do more than one area in a year.  On days when my littles younger than kindergarten want to join in, I’ll have these blob printables from Half-a-Hundred Acre Wood for them to trace or color. 
Teaching Geography

Around our home, we have a large scale world map hung in our school room, a globe on hand, a map placemat, laminated 8.5×11 maps in each of their travel notebooks, our CC geography triviums, and a large scale United States map in my son’s bedroom.  Keeping maps accessible to my littles gives them freedom to check them out whenever the interest strikes.  It increases our geography conversations too.   In the next few days, I’ll be sharing a map project my husband and I have been working on to document our 50 state travels. It’s simple, fun, and (I think) will keep my littles talking geography.



  1. says

    I love geography and maps. We have a number of the things that you mentioned. We have a number of geography books. My son brought the pocket atlas with him as one of his books for this trip. We traveled to 26 states this school year.

    • says

      Beth, I love that he picked his pocket atlas to bring along! We have a few map books, too. That’s awesome that you went to 26 states this year alone! How did you did it? I’d love to hear!

  2. stacy says

    Hello Beth,
    I just wanted to say how blessed I am to have found your website. I absolutely love CC but due to financial issues we are not able to be part of a community, but we are doing it at home. Thank you for all your ideas, I don’t feel as overwhelmed as I once was. Keep up the great work. I loved the link to the continental blobs…sweet!!! I was jumping up and down, since I wanted to do them but didn’t know how…

    Thank you!!

    • says

      thank you so much, stacy! i appreciate the encouragement & i’m glad it can be of help to you & your family!: ) stay in touch!!

  3. says

    I think this is such a neat idea! I hadn’t heard of it until about 2 weeks ago. I am definitely going to start this next year with my son. Thanks for sharing!

    • says

      it’s so great, amy! i think i’ll even do a more detailed post in the future with pictures of our work. especially for something like this, i think it can help to see a visual with the words.

  4. Stacie says

    Hi Beth, I am so happy I found this article on how to teach geography! I am a follower on your facebook and I follow your website but have no idea how I missed this post!! I still however have a question about teaching geography, I have a 6 yr old and 3 yr old that I am teaching. the older one is in CC. since we are in cycle 3 this year, should I still follow “the core” suggestion to teach my 6 yr old to trace Australia or should I teach him to trace a particular state to go along with C3? Thanks for your help in advance.

    • Beth Watson says

      Hi Stacie! I would start with blobbing the continents and circles. While she has prescribed ages to them, I think it’s more of an order. So, if it were me, I’d start there. You’ll still be learning this cycle’s geography work by identifying and tracing. So maybe do blobbing twice a week and the US geography tracing/identifying twice a week? Tracing the US in portions like this throughout the year makes sense, since all at once would be a lot.

      • Stacie says

        Thank you so much for your response Beth! That makes sense! I was just wondering how to trace US geography weekly.. so is it better to print off the maps from CC Connected and trace it just the states from each week? Thanks again for your help!

    • Beth Watson says

      Carrie, I found those laminated maps at Staples. Hole punched & everything! US on one side, world on the other. 🙂


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