Geography. It was not my favorite subject growing up in traditional schools, and I wanted to teach homeschool geography differently from the way I learned it in school. Sure, I knew my states, could identify other countries, large bodies of water, various cities, etc. But the process was lots of memorizing, spitting out facts, and then promptly forgetting everything.
I didn’t want that for my kids. When we began homeschooling, I knew I wanted to instill in my kids a natural curiosity about out our world. I wanted our homeschool geography study to be something that we naturally discussed in fun and hands-on ways, using a variety of resources.
When they were younger, I found this easy to do. There are so many great homeschool geography projects, songs, videos, curricula for elementary age children. We took advantage of them all and my kids got a great introduction to both US and world geography.
This past summer, I found myself wondering how I could spice up geography now that I had three middle schoolers. I knew we needed to broaden our horizons and dive into different countries and cultures and do it in a way that would appeal to my tweens and teen.
Pairing Something They Love with a Subject to Learn
My kids enjoy the television show Survivor—all the challenges, the games, the tribal councils. It’s also a fun connection point with their dad, who has watched the show since the beginning.
I did a quick search of the countries where the show has been filmed, and my wheels started to turn. I approached my kids with doing a monthly homeschool geography club in the style of Survivor. We could study some of the countries, come up with games or challenges, try new foods, and have some fun decorations.
With a resounding “YES!” from my tribe of kids and the thumbs up from our homeschool co-op, I set off to plan.
*Disclaimer: Before I dive into how we are implementing this club and the resources we are using, please note that this club was developed for older children (10+) and that the television show Survivor should be previewed by parents before showing kids.
Homeschool Geography Club Schedule: Planning for Fun!
The first thing that I did was narrow down the list of countries we would study. I decided we would meet over the course of a school year, once a month (except for December because we all know homeschooling in December is mostly baking cookies, holiday events, more cookies, and taking a needed break). Here’s what we settled on for a scheduled:
- August: Kick off party!
- September: Africa (Gabon and Kenya)
- October: Thailand and the Philippines
- November: Brazil
- January: Central America (Panama, Guatamala, Nicaragua)
- February: Fiji and Vanuatu
- March: Australia
- April: Samoa and Cook Islands
- May: End of year celebration!
There are other countries where the television show has been filmed, but these are the ones we chose to focus on because they were mostly new to us and offered lots of opportunities for exploring.
I did tell families how they studied these countries at home was up to them. We do not use a specific curriculum. That’s not how I roll (#typebhomeschool) and I never want to be responsible for telling another family how best to learn.
With the schedule in place, I set out to find some decorations to use for our monthly meetings. Fun ideas include:
- Tiki torches
- Tropical printed tablecloths
- Signage and other party supplies
- Large roll of craft paper and markers to make tribal banners and to use for other projects
- Items for obstacle courses and challenges (pool noodles, balls, jump ropes, bubbles, yoga blocks, etc.)
- Puzzles, riddles, and word games to use for challenges
Remember, get your kids on board! The more they are involved, the more likely they will engage. Have them research ideas, décor, games, and more. Older kids love being a part of the planning process and are quite resourceful (especially with online tools). Let them take some of the work off your plate and be open to their suggestions.
Geography Resources to Use at Home
How you and your kids learn about that month’s country is up to you! You could use this as a full year of homeschool geography, gathering and organizing resources ahead of time and planning out unit studies. Or, you can spend a few days a month, watching episodes, researching the country, cooking and eating new foods, listening to music, and reading books.
We began our studies by building our own islands with items from the local dollar store. Each child got a huge aluminum pan and access to the following supplies:
- Bags of sand
- Pipe cleaners
- Ocean colored marbles
- Tacky glue
- LEGO™ minifigures
- Foam blocks used for flower arrangements. They cut and trimmed these to build huts and treehouses for their minifigures
We listened to the television show's theme music and we watched the very first episode. The kids loved this!
The kids have selected an idol (a pink plastic tiki cup) and I hide it somewhere in the house once a month. Whoever finds the idol, gets to skip a homeschool subject for one day. This has been a competitive thing in our house—the kids love looking for the idol and turning it in to skip a lesson.
Notebooking pages kept in a binder have helped us round out our in-home country studies. We've tracked the weather for a month in Gabon and Kenya, labeled maps, researched various flags and colored them, and more. TheHomeSchoolMom has a country notebooking unit download (available at no cost to newsletter subscribers) that you could use for your country study.
Here are some great world geography resources you can explore:
- 100 Ways to Explore Geography with Kids by Mary at Not Before 7
- Hands-On Geography for Older Kids by Shawna at Not the Former Things
- Fun geography resources from Jennifer at the Organized Homeschooler
- Notebooking pages for EVERY country
- Survivor television show (CBS, Hulu)
- Survivor fiction and non-fiction books
- Give Your Child the World book by Jamie Martin (affiliate link)
- Documentaries on various countries available on Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix, Curiosity Quest, etc.
Homeschool Geography Club! How We Rock Our Monthly Meetings
During our kick-off meeting, the kids were broken into two tribes. I gave each tribe a huge banner and markers and told them they had to come up with a tribe name only using the letters in the word “SURVIVOR”—and boy—did this stump them!
- Tribe 1: Vivors
- Tribe 2: Sour Rivors
How awesome are these kids?
All the parents had some laughs as we watched the kids come up with various names and then trying to agree on something. Each month, we take out the banners and put them on each tribe’s table.
We usually have the kids research their team's country ahead of time and bring their facts to the meeting. One time, the kids each did an individual presentation and other times, they create a group banner or poster to share with the other tribe and parents. Public speaking is a great skill to learn, and this is a low stress way to get kids started. One of my kids is definitely NOT into doing this, but it's helped her break out of her shell a bit. We applaud and ask questions and overall the kids enjoy this part.
The really fun part comes with the CHALLENGES! I have worked with my kids to come up with some tribe challenges that pay homage to the ones on the television show, that can be done at the park with easy preparation, and are doable for kids of different ages and abilities.
Some games/challenges ideas include:
- Solving word puzzles and riddles
- Make-you-own-obstacle courses
- Hunting for hidden items (we use plastic coconuts) then solving a 25 piece puzzle
- Guess the food challenges
- Gross food challenges
- Trivia questions about that month's country
- Relay races
- Scavenger hunts
Click here for more fun ideas. We usually plan for 20 to 30 minutes for this part of the club. The kids love to run around and compete, and it helps to get their energy out too! I love seeing the teamwork amongst the kids.
Food, Glorious, Food
After all the crazy activity, the kids are HUNGRY! Homeschool geography club is a great way for kids to expand their culinary horizons and try out foods and drinks from other countries. Each month, two or three families bring something to eat that showcases that month's country/countries. We've tried: cocoa rice pudding, Thai bananas, mango, cookies from Gabon, seaweed, and other yummy treats.
And juice boxes, because we keep it real.
If you're looking to bring a global spin to your snack time, I've heard great things about Universal Yums, a monthly subscription box filled with snacks and candies from a different country each month (it also includes an educational booklet). World Market stores are also a good place to get snacks from different countries.
Don't Worry About Making It Perfect!
Despite all the planning, you can bet that something will happen that will throw you for a loop. Half the group is sick and doesn't show, someone forgets the food or a project, kids don't LOVE the challenge you've put together. It happens. The best thing is to roll with and carry on—perfection is boring!
The main reason for having this club is to build connections with other families, learn about countries and cultures, and to have FUN!
Your kids will remember the highlights and then you can laugh about all the mishaps later. Building community through a common topic with a homeschool geography club is a wonderful way to bring learning closer to home.