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Celebrating Geography Awareness Week With Young Children: Adapted Activities for Preschool, Kindergarten, and First Grade
by Mary Broadbent Sullivan
One way to enhance your geography curriculum or, to help introduce geography into your curriculum is by celebrating Geography Awareness Week. It was started by National Geographic and each year it has a different geography theme. The year 2000 theme is "Conservation" and will be celebrated the week of November 12-15, 2000.
The theme of Conservation is broken down into four main areas. They are, Biodiversity, Fresh Water, Population, and Oceans. National Geographic provides a web site that includes k-12 curriculum ideas for teachers and students. The site also includes a ‘Share Results’ area for teachers and geography e-mail updates for those who are interested.
Geography Awareness Week 2000 Web Site: http://magma.nationalgeographic.com/education/gaw/
On many occasions I have wanted to participate in academic celebration weeks but they did not include many activities that would work with my younger students. In many cases this is because my very young students do not have a background knowledge in these academic areas. This means that I need to find a way to introduce these new learning areas to my students. I need to build the foundation.
Here are a few curriculum ideas to help teachers of young children participate in Geography Awareness Week. These activities introduce the concepts of Conservation, Biodiversity, Fresh Water, Population, and Oceans. If you try some of these activities and the excellent ones suggested at the GAW web site I am sure that you will have a wonderful time celebrating Geography Awareness Week!
My main purpose when introducing conservation to children is to teach them personal responsibility towards cleaning up our own trash, recycling in the classroom, and respecting the natural environment around us. This is on a very basic level, relating specifically to the childrens' daily lives. How can each child protect the environment they live in? One example is by throwing away their trash in the proper place. Another example would be while taking nature walks in the area, (I even do nature walks in an urban area...) to discuss what happens if we pull all the branches and leaves off a tree or kill every bug that we see.
Many young children may think that most wild animals' natural habitat is a zoo. This activity is designed to help them understand that animals live all around the earth in many different types of habitats. Start with a world map in the middle of a display area/bulletin board that the children can easily see. Collect as many books as you can find that have animals in their natural environment. Read one of the books to the children. For example, you might read a book about koala bears. Discuss the book and then mark the continent of Australia, where the koala lives, on the world map. Then, connect a string from Australia to a picture of a Koala on the side of the map. Include three things that are part of the Koala’s habitat. Discuss that habitat means "where an animal lives". Include small representations of the three things next to the picture. For a koala, this could include eucalyptus trees that provide leaves for food, many trees for safety, shelter, and a place that remains in its natural state. Follow each book up with the children drawing and/or writing about the animal and including two things that are part of its natural habitat.
To introduce fresh water I start with the basics of the water cycle and how we use fresh water in our daily lives. Here is one of the books that I use and a follow up activity.
1. First I read "Why Does It Rain?"
Why Does It Rain? A Just Ask Book by Chris Arvertis (Weekly Reader Books, Checkerboard Press USA Copyright 1983)
Discuss the book and have children draw a picture about how it rains using crayons and paper.
Next, we create Paper Pillow Rain Clouds.
2. Cut out twin cloud shapes using two pieces of sturdy white construction paper that are placed together while you cut them. Do this for each student in your class.
3. Staple the edges of the twin cloud shapes together leaving one corner open.
4. Stuff the paper cloud pillows with newspaper and staple the corner so that you now have a paper pillow.
5. Have the children paint their rain cloud using white, blue, and black which they mix on the paper cloud surface to make grays and rain cloud blues while covering all white paper. I use clothes pins and a rope to hang and dry the clouds.
6. Have each child cut out three large raindrops out of blue construction paper.
7. The teacher staples each raindrop to a string and the string to the cloud. 8. Hang all the clouds from the ceiling. It really is a lovely sight!!! Then I play a tape of rain and a thunderstorm at nap time...
"Whose River Is It?"
Here is another great book to use that discusses how we share fresh water with animals.
My River by Shari Halpern (Scholastic Inc. NY Copyright 1992.)
During one of the GAW days you can play the Population Game. To introduce the concept of population this activity concentrates on the population of your classroom.
First, on graph paper, figure out the population of your entire class. Then explain that for part of the day the class will be doubling in size! Now each child can introduce their imaginary classmate buddy. The new classmate buddies can be dolls or animals that each child brought from home, characters they created out of poster board, or invisible new students. Now you will follow your regular routine while including the new students. For example as you call students to the tables they each find a seat for their new classmate buddy. Your class will run out of seats half way through the process. Another example is when lining up you will need to make a space for each of the new students and you will end up with a very long line. After each example of how doubling the class population effects your class, go back and record the students' feedback on a chart. (then resume each activity with the actual class population) Follow the doubled population examples of your class with half of the actual population. Ask half the class to perform some of the daily classroom routines. How do the students feel about half the tables filled or half the number of students on the playground? Record their answers on chart paper. Then record the students feelings about your actual class population. You can end this activity using a paper that is divided into three sections. In the three sections the students will draw and record the numbers for your actual class population, the doubled population, and half the actual population.
Turn an area of your room into the ocean. I covered the floor with blue nap time mats. I cut wave shapes on one edge of large poster board then, I mixed four shades of blue with the students. Then each student had a turn painting one of these murals with the four shades swirling and blending together. Cover the sides or walls of the area with the students' ocean murals slightly overlapped. I also created an ocean library at one of the tables. This included every ocean book I could get my hands on. We also read at least one ocean book a day as a whole class. At the art table students created ocean life on paper, cut each one out, and taped them to the ocean murals. Students can take turns acting out life in the ocean in the ocean area. You can also create an Ocean vs. Freshwater graph. This graph consists of two long columns, one for things that need the ocean and one for things that need freshwater. As the students decide which living creatures need the ocean or freshwater, have them draw a picture of the living creature and write the name (or dictate the name for you to write) next to the picture and add it to the chart. They may find that to most living creatures oceans and freshwater may be equally important.
Comprehensive Geography Web Sites:
Geography Awareness Week 2000 Web Site
Teacher.Net Geography Resource Links
CU Boulder Resources for Geographers