We started school on August 22, so we are finishing up our local geography block. It was a fun block, and one I expanded into covering our whole state. I did this for two reasons: my daughter really has a good knowledge of local things; a keen sense of direction and was already offering to draw maps of everything local before I even got there (Can I draw a map of my room? Look, I drew a map of my neighborhood!) and because I really want to start to cover U. S. Geography so we can do Canada and Mexico next year.
I think one thing to consider in this block is how heavily you will employ history. Donna Simmons talks about this at length in her Fourth Grade Syllabus, and it was something I pondered greatly. Geography, to me, doesn’t mean much unless we know how it impacted the people living there (or how the people impacted it). So, I tried not to go overboard, but did lay a foundation for a few future things in the process. This is how I did it:
Week One: (Before our block started, we took a trip to a local history center, which was well-loved and enjoyed). On the first day of our block, we started by having the fourth grader lie down (and siblings) and drew their outlines on butcher block paper and decorated. We talked about how our homes are our first bodies, a great gift from God. And God also gave us family. So our fourth grader drew herself on one page and wrote a few things that she wanted about herself, and then on another page drew her family and wrote a few things down about each family member. On the third page of her Main Lesson Book, she drew her house, and wrote down her address (and it was her idea to keep bringing it out wider and wider – neighborhood, town, county, state, country, continent, hemisphere, world; so we talked about all those different levels of “place”). She drew a map of her bedroom and then a map of a special place in our neighborhood where you have to cut through woods to get to a rope swing and we all followed her map to go swing there.
We oriented ourselves outside to finding north, she did a compass rose for form drawing and we then walked to the Main Street in our town, went to the City Hall and got a brief tour of where the mayor and the city council meet. We played a little “eye spy” kind of scavenger hunt while we walked around. Once we got back home, we looked at the maps we received and found the parks, rivers, points of interest, schools, churches, compass points on the map of our town. After looking at this map of our town, she went back and drew in her Main Lesson book a map of our neighborhood and wrote about how her city was in this county, and how many counties there are in our state.
WEEK TWO: My fourth grader drew a map of our state with its five geographic areas, and on the opposite page drew some of the symbols associated with our state: the state insect, state bird, state flower, state tree highest point, etc. We made salt dough and used that to make a map of our state on a piece of wood, sticking pins in it to mark the cities. Once that dried, we painted that the colors of the five geographic areas of our state using the same colors as when she drew the map in our Main Lesson Book, and also painted the different states bordering our state and the ocean bordering our state on the piece of wood around the salt dough state. Next, we drew a map of all the barrier islands of our state, and wrote a bit about what a salt marsh is and what a barrier island is and how these things help our state.
WEEK THREE: We visited the Etowah Indian Mounds, a rare archeological site in the Eastern U.S. and looked at how the geography of our state’s rivers led to Native peoples settling here. This site included archeological finds of asphalt from California, shells from the Gulf Coast, marble from within our own state and since there were no horses introduced yet, river transportation had to be a major trading method. When we came home we modeled the Indian mounds in clay, and drew them with a summary into our Main Lesson book. We also talked about how rivers were important then and how they are important in our state today. My daughter had camped on a dam this summer, so she had experience with the generation of electricity affecting lake levels, so that was a lovely tie-in. She drew another map of our state into her Main Lesson book detailing some of the major rivers and lakes. I then had a little story about a gnome who was in (a town in our state that produces local honey) and how the bees wanted to give the gnome honey for his birthday but a three-headed dragon had stolen the honey, and the bees had to answer three riddles about the rivers of our state in order to get the honey back for their gnome friend. This gave us the opportunity to talk about the blue holes along the Flint River, what river supplies most of the drinking water for our state, and what river is made from two major rivers.
We then talked briefly about how the first cities in our state were along the ocean or rivers, and how rivers supplied the way rice and indigo (and later cotton and sugar cane) were cultivated.
Over the weekend we took a trip to a Civil War and locomotive history museum, and I just let that experience settle for a bit.
WEEK FOUR : We started out with a field trip to pan for gold, and talked about how the rivers had quartz rocks with gold in the rocks. We got to tour an old stamp mill located on a gold mine that is still operating. Our state has a large amount of gold and at one point had a branch of the U.S. Mint here. So, we panned for gold and gems, came home satisfied and wrote up a small summary in our Main Lesson book. Then we talked about how the original plan for Georgia was to have canals, (more about rivers! see a trend here? LOL) but how it actually was much easier to build railroad tracks due to the flatness of the land….our state ended up with more miles of tracks than any other in the Deep South. Our state capital actually was originally called Terminus, where one of the railroads ended. We took the pins stuck in our salt dough map and labeled all the cities for our pins, and my daughter drew one last map of our state in her Main Lesson Book with all the cities.
We will end our block with apple picking and continue on for a bit longer informally by cooking some regional dishes and making a small state cookbook. There is also a marble quarry, most likely where the Native American mound builders got their marble, that opens up once a year in October, so we are planning a field trip there as well. Other fields trips in my head include the canoeing trip that got canceled due to rain, and possibly one to the aquarium in the southern part of our state that re-creates the ecologically important blue holes.
Hope some of you with fourth graders will also share your local geography block layouts!
Many blessings and much joy,