Travelling To Europe With Kids // Unschooling Geography

This is the second post in a series, detailing our preparations for travelling to Europe with our three kids.

As I mentioned in my last post, Hannah and Blake have been very interested in learning about the world they live in for over 18 months now. Having this trip to look forward to has served to increase their knowledge and fascination through real-life practical explorations. Today, I thought I would share some of the resources we use in our unschooling journey that have really helped extend this interest and generate lots of fun learning about all things geography related.

A map of the world is a necessity in any home and so is a globe. Seeing how far Australia is to Croatia on the world map really solidified for Hannah and Blake why we would need to use an airplane to get there. However, maps are one-dimensional and looking at a globe allowed the children to understand how the Earth is shaped. They were fascinated by the realisation that the masses of land on the top and bottom of the Earth had freezing temperatures while the middle, along the Equator, was incredibly hot. Antarctica for some reason also became the second continent – after Australia – that both of them committed to memory.

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Flags have been captivating for over a year now and this flag activity has been played with many, many times. It doesn’t include all the flags for all the countries of the world but it is enough to satisfy a child’s interest (ours has about 30 flags). As Hannah is a visual learner, she very quickly remembered quite a few of the flags and was able to relate them to real life experiences such as noticing the Swedish flag while on a shopping trip in IKEA and that our maple syrup must have been bottled in Canada as the Canadian flag contains a maple leaf. These sorts of connections never fail to surprise me and it’s also been a great divergent lesson in marketing and advertising!

And although she isn’t a proficient reader yet, Hannah is able to use this activity on her own by matching all the letters on the flag with a country. As she gets older she will be able to read the short facts about the country on the back of the flag which will lead into other interests I’m sure, so I love that this activity will evolve with the children as they grow. This is definitely one of my favourite resources and one I am asked about each time I post a photo with it in it on Instagram, so I am excited to be able to offer a link to all those who have asked me for one!

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As a lead on from flags, I found an activity pack like this at our local op-shop/thrift store and it includes stickers of flags, a mini passport, information about different countries and even postcards to ‘send’, so this created lots of space for imaginary play. It was especially fun once we received our real passports and they were able to use the play one to stamp and pretend to fly to far of places with.

We have all enjoyed putting together the world map puzzle that we own several times over the last six months. Although it has 500 pieces I really love how much time it takes and that it requires us all to interact to complete a goal. Because there are a lot of tricky blue pieces, we were able to spend quite a bit of time discussing the different oceans and the smaller islands and countries that are often unheard of. Lots of patience is required with this puzzle of-course, but it is easy to find puzzles with far fewer pieces which are especially great for smaller children.

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Of course books have featured prominently in our discovery of the world and this book in particular we have spent many hours poring over. I wish they would make more books like this, it is so fantastic for children to easily see how other children in the world live. Hannah was shocked that the girl from Brazil often wears no shoes or a shirt and occasionally eats  Alligator meat. I then reminded her that in Australia you can purchase Crocodile to eat in some areas and Kangaroo is sold in shops too! A movie I would recommend for highlighting more cultural differences is the documentary Babies.

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When I noticed the children drawing maps constantly – initially sparked by a pirate movie – I asked my parents to buy a special book for the children for Christmas which is incidentally named Maps! I explained to Hannah and Blake how the maps they are drawing to get from one place to another can also be interpreted a different way as a map of a country. I particularly loved that the book includes Croatia since it’s such a small country it doesn’t always get mentioned. There is so much detail in this book and it is again another resource that will grow and evolve with the children as they do.

And this book is one we borrowed from the library recently and we were able to use  with our Around the World models to match some of the famous sights Isabella sees on her adventures. The book also includes detail about each sight, for example the Eiffel Tower and The Statue of Liberty, at the end of the book which was a pleasant extension.

As you can tell, we don’t shy away from technology and an app we have used to extend our geographical knowledge is called Map the World which Hannah and Blake both enjoy playing. It’s a simple puzzle app where the user has to put the countries in the correct places on the continent and a voice calls out the names of the countries. This is a really great way to get to know all those smaller countries in different regions and Hannah can now easily find many countries on a map or atlas.

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At the end of my last post I received a question about languages and whether or not we were teaching the children Croatian (I am bi-lingual as I grew up in Croatia). As with all new things, we are guided by the children’s interest and motivation because coming from that perspective means we know the learning will be meaningful to the children. Hannah and Blake are aware that I know Croatian and we speak to my grandmother in Croatia at least monthly via Skype. We also often say Good Night in Croatian to my parents when we leave their house so they’ve picked up on a few phrases here and there just from those sorts of interactions.

After learning that we were going to visit my grandma for a couple of weeks on our holiday, Hannah asked me how she would speak with her since she doesn’t know much English. I explained to Hannah that she could learn some Croatian if she wanted and she then spent several weeks asking me all sorts of Croatian phrases. She then realised that the chef on a cooking show we often watch is French, and decided that she would like to know the words he is using so that she can know some French. In the last month she hasn’t been interested in learning any more of any language but I am not concerned. She will be immersed in other languages on our trip and it is up to her, and each of my other children, to decide for themselves which languages they naturally gravitate too.

So although that wasn’t an exhaustive list, it is a good overview of how preparing for this trip has helped accentuate and bring together the passions Hannah and Blake have already shown us. It shows how quality resources support unschooling, but it also doesn’t need to be complicated either. There are more things we have done in regards to learning about the world we live in and even more that we will do in the future as travel becomes a major focus of our lives.


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