Covert Detectives in the Neighborhood

Originally we began tackling geography by learning the major mountain ranges, rivers, continents, deserts, oceans, etc. along with various geographical terms.  Necessary information in my mind, but it was dry and dull – working on blackline maps, working on the spellings, reviewing and then quizzing.  It was as good a place to start as any, but a very good thing happened a long the way:  I stopped to think about it!  Sometimes that’s the answer.  Stop.  Think.  Move forward, perhaps in a different direction.

As a grownup, I am learning that I’m making assumptions about Max’s knowledge base.  Well, doesn’t everybody know that north is that way?  And if you turn in this direction, you’ll be facing to the west, where the sun sets, right?  Basic information which when I stopped all the noise to think, is probably not a part of Max’s internal world.  So what’s the point of trying to cram in places in the world when he doesn’t understand some of the basic underlying concepts?

Brown Paper School to the rescue!  The Book of Where:  Or How to be Naturally Geographic by Neil Bell:


This book cuts to the chase with activities designed to help you figure out where you are in space, where you are in  your world.  No better place to start than in your own house!  We blindfolded ourselves and tried to find a pretend piece of hidden gum under the third couch cushion in the living room.  Next the ‘gum’ got moved across the house to the master bath’s top drawer on the left sort of scenario.  The point they were trying to teach is that we can use all of our senses to determine where we are at any given time.  With our sight taken away, we had to rely on photographic memory and a few bumps here and there to help us get where we needed to go.

Next we learned about the importance of drawing things to scale.  Max chose to measure his room and a few things in it (like the bed) and he drew a bird’s-eye view of that room on graph paper using a scale of 1″=2 feet.  Now we have a better understanding of distances on maps and the realization that even though Texas looks like it’s ‘right over there’, it takes forever and a day to drive there.  Bummer and wonderful!

Yesterday we went on a stroll about the neighborhood and pretended we were helping a private eye by the name of ‘Detective Oh No’ case the neighborhood.  We followed along with the story and in the process began learning our city’s numbering and naming system for streets.  We took a clipboard along and Max diagrammed out the streets and the house numbers, learning as he went.  After we safely avoided the 10-ton garbage masher with the meanest looking driver this side of Cleveland and a granny in a wheel chair wearing combat boots and a beard, we made it back to the ranch to look at the data.  I think Max has a better appreciation for our mail carrier now since finding all of those numbers and houses can be confusing! 

Next week we’ll be making our own compass and will take a look at how the earth and sun interact.  It’s going back to square one and building from there, which is, well……….brilliant!  And so much more applicable at this stage.


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