January-February 2009 Selected Content
Where in the World Is Tallinn? Postcard Geography - Heidi Willers
"Where in the world is Tallinn?" I asked myself one spring morning as I gazed at a postcard depicting a historic downtown marketplace. I had been asking myself similar questions all year as postcards from across the United States and Europe had been arriving with increasing frequency to our Midwestern mailbox. The postcards were part of an early geography adventure that our family has now come to fondly refer to as postcard geography.
What is Postcard Geography?
Dictionaries define geography as the science of the world and its inhabitants, a description of the earth or part of it, including its structure, features, products, political divisions and people. Postcard geography is a way of using postcards as a launching pad for early geography exploration with young children.
How Can You Implement Postcard Geography?
To get started, look for opportunities to share your plans with family and friends. Does dad travel for his job? Send stamps with him and ask him if he could take time to send postcards home. When friends or family share their travel plans with you, invite them to send a postcard from their destination to your child.
Get access to maps and/or a globe. These come in all price-ranges from a variety of sources. We initially invested in paper maps from a local discount store and switched to large laminated maps, which are available in discount, office and school supply stores. The laminated maps were more durable for our young children and allowed us to write on them with dry-erase markers and put stickers on them, which could later be removed.
While you wait for those first postcards to arrive, consider a gentle introduction to geography by exploring your own neighborhood, community or region. You can start by creating a simple line drawing of your neighborhood, and then take a walk with your children to mark familiar landmarks such as your home, park, and library. Then obtain a local map of your city and do the same thing, either by walking or driving. Mark information on the map that your children can relate to, including your home and places you visit often. Also highlight any natural landmarks and historical sites or points of interest.
Get information from your library, the chamber of commerce, local business association, or tourism board about your city or county. Find out who lives there--the population, whether the people work locally or commute, and what the major products and/or businesses are for your community. Note your mayor and city council. By laying a simple foundation through studying the geography of home, your child will have a framework for understanding the geography of unfamiliar places.
When the postcards arrive, you're ready to go. For a simple approach, as we used with our daughters, read the postcard, find the location on a map and/or globe, and compare it to your location. Then read an age-appropriate atlas entry for the area to learn general, simply-presented information on the country. You and your children can then use online search engines, such as Google or Altavista, to research the location and view pictures and text by computer. Take the children to visit your library to find age-appropriate books on the region to learn about its climate, the spoken language, and what the people wear, eat, and do for work and play.
For a more in-depth approach, study the physical geography of the region, including its major cities, bordering regions, topography, landmarks and the climate. You and your children can learn about culture, traditions, holidays, government, economy and religions of the places the postcards come from. A great extension activity is to have your children contact the person who sent them the card. They can interview the sender about the location to get a personal, eyewitness account of the place.
There are several options for collecting and displaying postcards. You can hole punch one corner and collect the cards on a metal ring; as the cards accumulate, you can group them by category, such as region, state, country or continent. Alternatively, you can make books using the information you've learned about the place, with the postcard as the cover illustration. We displayed our cards for a season on a bulletin board in our kitchen. Another idea is to display them around your map, using string or yarn to connect the postcard with its physical location on the map. Finally, you can recycle them by sharing or swapping with friends who are doing a similar early approach to geography.
Why use Postcard Geography?
It's easy. Postcard geography requires very little advanced preparation. As the cards arrive, you engage in a learning adventure with your children. As you look at the pictures with your children, read the pre-printed information and note the location. Then read the handwritten message to learn what the sender found interesting about that location. The postcards are a great starting point for geography study.
It's cheap. Family and friends are often more than willing to send postcards to your children when you tell them what you're doing. However, if you have neighbors or acquaintances that travel often and you don't know them well, share your plan and offer to pay for the postcards and postage. For a small investment, you can acquire a few good maps, a globe and an atlas for home use. Alternatively, you can minimize cost by using free online and print resources available through your local library.
It's fun. Most children love to get mail. And many, once they learn what a globe or map is, enjoy looking up the places from the postcards. It was not uncommon when reading or learning of a new place, to hear our four-year-old daughter say, "Where is that? Let's look it up on the map!" She wanted to display our large United States and world maps on our family room walls. Both of our girls also enjoyed displaying the postcards on our kitchen bulletin board, as well as taking them down periodically and flipping through old postcards. As the year progressed, they anticipated the arrival of the mail and hoped for new postcards to read.
It's adaptable. For our young daughters, we engaged in very simple study, including map study, reading atlas entries and simple children's books about the location, as well as comparing and contrasting the area of study with our home. For our older daughter with special needs, we found pictures and paired information written in simple sentences with picture supports. Another option available is to check out travel videos of the country or region of study. Children who learn well with hands-on projects can make a recipe, costume or craft that is representative of the region you are studying.
What do young children gain from Postcard Geography?
Through geography study, young children expand their knowledge and curiosity of the world beyond their own neighborhood. They gain basic map skills. They also develop beginning investigative and research skills, through the use of the library, internet and reference materials. Today when I respond to my daughter's questions with, "I don't know," she usually comes back with, "Why don't we Google it?" or "Why don't we find a book on it at the library?"
So, if you're still asking yourself, "Where in the world is Tallinn?" I'll spoil it for you this once and tell you it's in Estonia. And if you're unfamiliar with Estonia, as I was, why don't you grab your kids, look it up on the map and see where it leads? You never know what adventures your family may end up taking around the world without ever leaving home.
© 2009, Heidi Willers