Homeschool Geography & Earth Science

When I began homeschooling, I thought homeschool geography was just about places, countries, and maps with lessons using living books and maps.

Then I began to read through the Australian Curriculum and I saw all these environmental issue topics and I wondered, “Why on earth is that in the geography curriculum, when it should just be about places, countries and maps.” So I went back to my Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series book and started rereading her ideas on geography. And to my surprise I found in Charlotte Mason books ideas about the earth science and the environment.

Homeschool Geography

Australian Curriculum & Charlotte Mason Geography

Charlotte Mason Homeschool Geography is a combination of three Australian Curriculum subjects Languages, Earth Science and Geography. In the Australian Curriculum geography is a separate subject within the Humanities and Social Science. The Australian Curriculum also includes Earth Science as a content strand in the science curriculum. Learning another language is part of the Australian Curriculum Languages but it also includes learning about culture and place of the particular language being studies.

In the primary homeschool geography lessons the Charlotte Mason way would realistically be around 1.5 hours per week.

Australian high schools allocate about 50 hours per year to geography. This subject is often rotated between the sub strands of history and geography and are often taught in blocks – a year of history or a year of geography. Science is also approximately 20% of the Australian Curriculum and Earth science is a part of that. Also a proportion of the Language Study is also about learning the cultural geography of other countries.

Charlotte Mason Homeschool Geography includes:

  • physical geography (including earth science),
  • geography skills (field work and map skills),
  • human geography (languages & cultural geography).

The Australian Curriculum and Charlotte Mason do have many things in common but of course the approach and emphasis varies.

Charlotte Mason Method & Australian Curriculum Differences

One great difference is the three cross curriculum themes in the Australian Curriculum that are meant to be incorporated into ALL SUBJECTS of the curriculum (even maths). These “priority” subjects are: teaching about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, Australia’s place in Asia and sustainability.  In geography these themes permeate the Australian Curriculum content. Whilst I don’t mind teaching these topics, I believe they are very out of balance in the Australian Curriculum and are wrapped up in political ideologies and agendas.

The Australian Curriculum also expects children to make decisions (have an opinion) about environmental issues before, I believe, they really have the knowledge. Charlotte Mason often talked about the teacher not getting in the way and just letting a child learn about a topic and discover for themselves. She believed children would have a burgeoning understanding of issues. Children were encouraged to think for themselves but they were not required “to change the world” from an early age.

Missing from the Australian Curriculum is a broad overview of World Geography. Whilst there is a small overview of countries and continents in primary school, learning world map geography is almost absent except in random sections rather than the big picture.

Putting Your Homeschool Geography Lessons Together.

First Homeschool Geography Lessons on Place

When children are young Charlotte said they should be out-of-doors learning about the places that they go. She wanted them to learn about the landscape, habitat, climate, flora and fauna. They should see streams and rivers, plains and mountains; they should learn their names; they should paint or sketch what they see. She said these are their first geography lessons but they need not know it. I laughed to myself because I did not know it either. I always put these out-of-doors lessons in the category of nature study and for me that was really a science subject. Then it clicked in my brain she had been teaching me (and my children of course) my geography through nature study.

“The first ideas of geography, the lessons on place, which should make a child observant of local geography, of the features of his own neighbourhood, its heights and hollows, and level lands, its streams and ponds, should be gained, as we have seen, out of doors, and should prepare him for a certain amount of generalisation––that is, he should be able to discover definitions of river, island, lake, and so on, and should make these for himself in a tray of sand, or draw them on the blackboard.” Charlotte Mason

Charlotte’s emphasis on teaching nature study was also about teaching children to appreciate and respect nature which would also bring “a sympathy for the environment”. This objective also appears in the Australian Curriculum although the method of bringing children to this conclusion is a harsher shock treatment method. It is also related to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders idea of Country.

Charlotte Mason Geography and the Australian Curriculum want the study of geography to start locally with looking at places (which includes nature study) and making observations about how people live around them.

World Geography Lessons

The next lessons on Place are really world geography. Charlotte Mason calls it  pleasant talk about places. Consequently, she doesn’t want children to be bogged down with geography facts. She wants children’s geography lessons to be something that will capture their interest. She thinks that there should be lots of pictures to look at and a story that will give them a sense of adventure.

Charlotte Mason’s ideas on teaching homeschool geography can be broken down into what she called the Panoramic Method of Teaching Geography.

 “The panoramic method unrolls the landscape of the world, region by region, before the eyes of the scholar with in every region its own conditions of climate, its productions, its people, their industries and their history. This way of teaching the most delightful of all subjects has the effect of giving to a map of a country or region the brilliancy of colour and the wealth of detail which a panorama might afford, together with a sense of proportion and a knowledge of general principles.” Charlotte Mason Vol 6 p 228

When teaching this subject children should understand how the world is divided into continents.  There is an emphasis on learning about your home country. After that, neighbouring countries, and a selection of other countries are studied. The Australian Curriculum has stipulated the order of what countries you can study but I think flexibility in homeschooling allows you to cover them in your own order. Charlotte Mason loves an in-depth study to make a child at home in that country.

The Charlotte Mason Geography Notebook

This is yet another time when we can use a notebooking for our record of learning, but what should go into our child’s geography notebook?

1. Maps should be studied and sketched. A child can add their black line master maps with labels or they can free hand draw their maps.

She would often begin by studying a continent before she broke it down into specific countries or regions. For example she says, when studying Asia a student “begins with a survey of Asia followed by a separate treatment of the great countries and divisions and of the great physical features.”

2. Narrations from some of the living books that are read or from some of the DVDs that you watched.

3. Answers to geography questions.

Here is a sample from my daughter’s panoramic method of geography – Japan study for a term.

Sometimes Charlotte Mason Used Questions To Teach Geography!

This is something that has surprised me about the study of geography using Charlotte Mason’s method. She asked children to answer specific questions about the regions that they were studying.  Often we just have Charlotte Mason asking children to narrate from readings but with geography she wants to pull more from them and asks detailed questions about regions. Charlotte Mason wanted her students work to have,

“vivid descriptions, geographical principles, historical associations and industrial details, are afforded which should make, as we say, an impression, should secure that the region traversed becomes an imaginative possession as well as affording data for reasonable judgments.” Vol 6 p228

Charlotte Mason gives examples of the type of questions she would ask in her study,

  • Form II (Ages 9 -11)  regional questions include the comparison between two regions within their own country. She would also expect them to acquire knowledge about aspect, history and occupations of that area.
  • Form III (Age 12) included an expanding awareness of regions just beyond their own. She uses the example of Europe as their close neighbours; for Australians that might involve a study of New Zealand, or the Pacific Islands; for North Americans it might be Canada, or Central America.
  • Form 4 (around age 13) the questions become a little more complex as they begin to broaden their study of the world.

However Charlotte Mason’s questions are not in the form of a quiz or test. They are questions that allow the pupil to share “vivid descriptions” about what they know and not catch them out on what they don’t know.

Using Maps For Homeschool Geography

“Geography should be learned chiefly from maps. Pictorial readings and talks introduce him to the subject, but as soon as his geography lessons become definite they are to be learned, in the first place, from the map.” Charlotte Mason

Map making, and learning from maps, is also an important part of both the Australian Curriculum and the Charlotte Mason Method.

Maps are often one of the first things that come to mind when studying geography. And maps are a good place to start as a way to orientate children to places that you learn about.

Here are a few ways we incorporate maps into our geography lessons.

Types of Maps to Get

Map Markers

I first discovered map markers when we were doing Five In A Row – they called them story disks. After we read a story we would place the map marker on the country we had read about. It was an excellent way to learn our geography. We used the map markers for our science zoology study. We would place animal pictures on our world map after we had studied them.

It’s easy to make your own map markers out of cardboard. We make a small circular disk about 5cm (2 inches) in diameter and have your child draw a relevant image on the marker. We then stick the marker on to the map with some Blue Tac.

Here  is a template map marker for you to download.

Map Marker template Download

Map Marker template Download.

We Draw Maps

We drew the Garden of Eden when we were doing our Bible history studies and we also spent some time drawing maps of Israel.

Garden of Eden map

Black Line Masters

An exercise that can also help children learn about countries is to print of black-line masters of different countries and have them fill in the major cities and topography. When I want a black line master map I simple use Google images and search black line master of the country I’m looking for.


Our World Map Journal includes continent map outlines.

Google Earth

Another resource for looking at the worlds topography is Google Earth! So much to explore there. You can look at topography of countries in some cases you can get so specific you can even find your own home.

Living Books Geography & Documentaries

Well it isn’t hard to imagine that Charlotte Mason wanted us to use books for homeschool geography. Ideas are food for the mind and Charlotte wanted children to have their imagination captured as they heard about the world through books and talk and exposure to nature. One way to give your children pleasant talk of places is through living books.

Choose Geography Books Wisely

A few years ago it was recommended I read aloud a 450 page book called A Traveller in Rome whilst I was studying the New Testament and Acts with my children. This book was supposed to be a living book. At page 100 we stopped. I was bored (and falling asleep or slurring as I read). The kids felt tortured and we all agreed we couldn’t go on. (I hope it had nothing to do with my reading style!). We certainly were pottering in Rome but we were very lost. We really couldn’t follow the story, the place names, or the streets.

Another book that we used for homeschool geography was Around the World in Eighty Days. This book was for independent reading and it was my intention that the child would map out the travels on a map  as they read. Again this was a big failure. Why? because my children got lost in the names and places. I tried this book with three out of my four children and they all disliked the book, even though they were good readers. Two of them never finished it.

The reason I’m telling you this is that living books geography needs a good book and a map. In hindsight we should have used a map of Rome and a decent world map so that we understood where we were with each chapter.

Choose wisely! If you plan on reading about geography in a book make sure you want to stay their for a while and go slowly to get the most benefit.

History Books Also Teach Homeschool Geography

Geography is more than knowing where to find a country on a map and learning a bit about the culture. It is also learning about the physical attributes of the land. Geography lessons are often boring for children if they are not taught with the pleasant padding that makes this subject interesting. We usually find that combining historical fiction with living book geography to be the best combination. You get the geography facts clothed in the story.

“The  geographical aspects of history …is valued by young people as affording a knowledge of the past that that bears upon and illuminates the present.” Charlotte Mason

Using Documentaries As Travel Brochures

“Geography is, to my mind, a subject of high educational value; the peculiar value of geography lies in its fitness to nourish the mind with ideas, and to furnish the imagination with pictures.” Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason wanted children to enjoy seeing places through the eye of the traveller and not just memorizing facts. She thought it needed to be the sort of information that an adult would enjoy.

“The child’s geography lesson should furnish just the sort of information which grown-up people care to possess… interesting, graphic, with a spice of personal adventure.” Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason wanted children to know the geography of the world. She suggested children read travel brochures as a way to get a feel for the country or to imagine the world  from their local experiences – a hill nearby could be like the Alps, or a brook a great river. Today we have something extra; we have documentaries!

I have found that documentaries are a simple way to find out about different countries, their foods and their customs. It’s also a good quality teaching resource that can give the kids a break from their homeschool teacher. But just like a good book not all documentaries are the same. I like the presenter is also a story teller. They tell you history snippets, give you vivid descriptions and meet the people. Documentaries by Simon Reeves and the Lonely Planet are usually very good.

Story Telling Geography DVD List

  • Lonely Planet Series – the Lonely Planet is a successful travellers guidebook. And these DVDs are perfect for experiencing places like you would as a traveller. We’ve always found them worth viewing.
  • Pilot Guide Series – You can watch the trailers for these online and pick your favourite hosts or country. Our family favourite was Ian Wright , he is cheeky but fun to listen to – Greenland and Iceland one is my favourites. I do suggest you watch these with your young children as sometimes as they do explore places that can be a little confronting for little eyes.
  • Simon Reeve – winner of the British Travel Press Award 2013. We really find Simon’s story telling style interesting and informative. He not only looks at the landscape but highlights social issues in the regions he is travelling. Travel titles include:
    • Tropic of Cancer
    • Tropic of Capricorn
    • Indian Ocean
    • Cuba
    • Equator
    • Australia
    • Places that Don’t Exist
    • Meet the Stans – Central Asian countries

Geography Living Books For Kids

Finding out about countries is never really taught  in the Australian Geography curriculum. (There is one depth study of a neighbouring country of choice in Year 4). I think this is a wasted opportunity. Here are some ideas for teaching geography.

World Picture Books For Children

Canada & Artic Books For Kids

Books on Asia

European Living Books

Living Books on Africa

America Book List

Includes USA, Mexico and South America

More Geography Resources

Nature Study Ideas

How to start Charlotte Mason nature study and nature journaling.

My Homeschool Curriculum

If you are looking for a curriculum that has already worked out all the planning for you then My Homeschool Graded Courses might be for you!

In short, it follows follows state and territory syllabus requirements while using a literature rich approach inspired by Charlotte Mason.