7 Ways the Great Outdoors Is Your Geography Classroom

a mom wearing a backpack with three children

Living near the Gulf Coast during hurricane season brings a heightened sense of preparedness and anxiety. One year as a hurricane slammed the Texas Gulf Coast near our home, we fled and took shelter in a hotel.

It was important to me to homeschool gently so that my boys would feel a sense of calm and normalcy. As soon as we moved into the hotel, I located a beautiful and serene state park nearby with a waterfall, clear pond, and walking trails.

I used the state park as our outdoor geography classroom because geography is so much more than labeling a map. Geography is a remarkable bridge to tie in other subjects like science, history, math, and art.

With the limited school supplies I hastily packed, we created geography journals. During this strange situation of being out of our home, I learned 7 inventive ways to teach geography outdoors.

ONE/ Identify rocks

For many hours we hiked and located different shaped rocks on the trails. My boys would have loved to have taken the rocks from the state park, but instead they identified them using an online field guide and sketched their appearance. Teaching my boys to leave the rocks there for others to view was also a way to teach them to care for the earth.

TWO/ Identify local landforms

The next day instead of looking down, we focused on looking up. We viewed physical landforms in the park. Viewing and learning what a mesa is versus made a lasting impression that a book could never achieve.

THREE/ Stargaze

Living in the city at that time, the street lights prevented our chances for stargazing. Taking evening walks in the park when it was allowed, reminded us to locate constellations and to appreciate what we could see in the night skies with the naked eye.

FOUR/ Graph the local population

While in the hotel, my boys visited with other kids staying in the hotel. They too, like us, had to leave their homes. With the permission of their parents, my boys made a graph to show which city each family lived in.

Not only did the geography practice help to relieve some of the fear my children had, but they learned about the population in other parts of Texas.

7 Ways the Great Outdoors is Your Geography ClassroomAfter taking a break from the park and staying at the hotel that day, the boys were ready to head back to the park.

FIVE/ Study the local trees

We learned about the bald cypress trees in the park and read at the local library about how the trees helped to slow floodwaters and trap pollutants. Sketching the trees in their journals helped my boys not only to appreciate the local geography, but also to admire the beauty of nature.

SIX/ Learn the local animals

Before making the last trip to the park, I read about the local animals like the white-tailed deer, fox squirrels, mourning doves, black and turkey vultures and eastern bluebirds. Labeling our journals with a checklist of the names of the animals, I had hoped that we would observe one or two as we explored in the early morning hours.

But, as you can imagine, silencing young boys who are outdoors is not an easy feat. For hours though, they were immersed in learning as we tried to spot flora and fauna along the trail.

SEVEN/ Track weather

Back at the hotel, we had several packets of hurricane tracking maps. Tracking the coordinates of the hurricane as it headed toward our home made learning geography a practical tool for my boys.

Returning home after the hurricane, we discovered some damage to our home. While we had tears as we surveyed our damaged home, that is not what my boys remember. They remember learning about the world around us in the outdoor geography classroom of that state park. That hurricane-inspired adventure sparked a love of geography that has lasted my boys beyond their formal homeschooling years.

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About the Author

Tina RobertsonTina Robertson celebrated the graduation of Mr. Senior in 2013 and Mr. Awesome in 2015. Because of her love for new homeschoolers, she mentors moms through her unique program called New Bee Homeschoolers. She loves all homeschoolers, though, as she shares her free 7 Step Curriculum Planner, unit studies, lapbooks and homeschooling how tos. She can't sing, dance, or craft, but she counts organizing as a hobby. She is still in the homeschool trenches blogging at Tina's Dynamic Homeschool Plus.