Learning about the landscape around you

 

View of irrigation circle patterns on landscapeFlying across the country to the conference for the National Association for the Education of Young Children brought many different landscapes into view through the plane window. I saw ridges, meandering rivers and river-carved canyons, heavily wooded areas, hills, mirror-like lakes, flat regions that went on and on, and sharp snow covered peaks. Human impact on the land appeared as long straight and curved lines, circles, crazy quilt patches, and structures of many shapes including skyscrapers, railway lines, wind turbines, flat roofs, single structures and clusters of structures. The sky changed from clear to cloudy.

How can we help preschool children explore how the landscape and natural resources affect how their community’s infrastructure develops? Should we? National Council for the Social Studies describes the benefits of learning about geography: “Geographic inquiry helps people understand and appreciate their own place in the world, and fosters curiosity about Earth’s wide diversity of environments and cultures” (NCSS, pg 40). How can preschool educators provide experiences that will later help children think about the landscape and ask questions to learn more to be able to make informed choices as adults?

Child hugging a treeWe can begin with becoming very familiar with the area around our own school or home, talking about its slopes, vegetation, and structures. Help children take an inventory of the natural features of their play area counting how many: trees or other plants, rocky areas, puddles, grass lawns, mulched areas, steep slopes and gentle inclines, and other elements. An inventory can include human structures such as fences, tables, and climbing structures. As they count and record how many, children can sort the features into groups, natural or human-made. Ask children what elements they would add, if possible.

Walking field trips to the field or building next door will reveal additional features–the spot with the most grasshoppers or a ditch with cat tail plants to pick for their fuzzy heads, and buildings made of stone containing fossils or windows with a glimpse into a store. Children’s reasons for valuing a particular location may differ from adults’ reasons. A walking field trip can incorporate a mapping experience (Ashbrook). As children grow older the walks can go further, expanding children’s understanding of their place. 

Ashbrook, Peggy. 2011. The Early Years: A Sense of Space. Science and Children. 49 (1): 30-31

National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards: Guidance for Enhancing the Rigor of K-12 Civics, Economics, Geography, and History (Silver Spring, MD: NCSS, 2013).

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