Monday, July 19, 2021

How To Make Continent Boxes

Creating Geography Treasure Boxes

While creating a geography unit study, I stumbled across a blog post at LaPaz Home Learning telling about the Continent Boxes she had just completed. Finally, I knew what to do with all the "artifacts" we create during our studies of different countries.
Continent Boxes are sort of like treasure boxes- one for each continent- which contain maps, books, and artifacts from the countries on that continent. You can buy or create things specifically for your continent boxes, or you can do a "scavenger hunt" around the house to see what objects you can come up with.
The boxes can be plain shoe boxes or plastic totes, or you can decorate them with maps, pictures, and flags from each continent.
Here are some ideas of what you can include.


If you're going to study geography, it is only sensible that your study should include maps. The physical geography of a country is important, not only because it tells us where a country is located, but also because it gives us a glimpse into the cultures of the area. Cultures are influenced in many ways by the physical geography of the place where they live.
An example of this is the Inuit people of the Arctic regions. As we were preparing to study them the other day, I asked my children if they knew where the Inuit lived. Two of my children answered "Mexico" and "South America." If you know anything about the Inuit, you can see how ridiculous these answers are. The cultures of the Arctic peoples are vastly different from those of Central and South America.
Each box ought to include a map of the continent and maps of individual countries on that continent. You might also want to include puzzles or games featuring the physical geography of that continent.


A picture is worth a thousand words, so make sure you include several in each box. These pictures should include things like people, buildings, food, animals, plants, and landmarks.
Photos can be cut from old copies of National Geographic and pasted with a label onto cardstock or made into a collage. Travel brochures would also be a great addition. Or, you could just include a few nice picture books. If you can find some copies of the local art, add those in too.

"Artifacts" and Souvenirs

The best things you can put in your boxes are real items from the countries you want to learn about. If you haven't been blessed with the ability to travel the world to collect your own souvenirs and don't know anyone who can do it for you, try looking around your house to see what "foreign" items may be hiding there. Check out the ethnic food shelves at your local grocery store or go shopping at a store which specializes in selling exotic merchandise. There are also many online stores where you can purchase items from overseas.
You can also add all the projects your children complete as they study different countries. Or, include craft items and instructions in your continent boxes so your children can complete these projects at another time.


You can learn a lot about a country's history and what its people value by seeing what they put on their money. Kids especially love to examine foreign coins. Both coins and bank notes are available for sale on Ebay. You might also ask your local bank if they can get them for you or ask friends and relatives to bring some back from their travels.
If you can't get the real thing, you can still print off some pictures of foreign money to add to your continent boxes.

Stamps and Postcards

Stamps and postcards are like tiny windows through which we can glimpse small amounts of a countries culture. These can be collected through exchanges or from a friend who like to travel. Sometimes you can find them in shops which sell collectibles. If you can't get them anywhere else, try looking on Ebay.


Your boxes ought to contain as many real "treasures" as possible. But some items are obviously going to be too big to put in a box. This is where miniature replicas fit in.
Miniatures can be things like toy animals, tiny models of famous landmarks, or dioramas of native landscapes. Many items which are intended for dollhouses would be perfect for your continent boxes. Or, you could even get some modeling compound and have your children create some miniatures of their own.

Weeds, Abundance, and Looking Back

Gardening provides many opportunities to experience the blessings and creativity of God on an intimate level. Recently I was struck by the abundance He pours out on us in the weeds He causes to grow. As I was cleaning out an overgrown flower bed, I noticed that almost every weed I was removing was one that could be eaten, and which provided health benefits superior to the vegetables which He had caused to grow by means of my planting. 

I did not come to this revelation through my time spent in the garden, looking at the broad picture and striving to maintain control in the face of daily trials. Rather, I was able to see the value of these “invaders” because of time I spent in study later, when the day’s gardening was done. And, because I had taken the time to learn more about the abundance God brought to my little plot of land, I was able to recognize the blessings in the weeds.

God’s abundance extends to other areas of our lives as well. There are so many experiences coming at us- so many lessons He is trying to teach us. Sometimes the lessons are hard. And sometimes the lessons are good, but their memory leaves the sadness of things past. The abundance of these experiences can overwhelm us. Often we see these like we see the weeds- as something simply to be dealt with- and go past them without ever really understanding why they were given to us. 

It is tempting to move on to the next thing without looking back- to yank the “weeds” and focus on the “vegetables”. But I don’t want to just experience the lessons, I want to learn from them as well. I want to be nourished by all of the abundance with which God fills my life. And that often involves time spent in reflection, studying the things that have taken place in my life, and asking God to reveal what He wants me to learn from those things. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Using Narration in Your Homeschool

I didn’t set out to be a "Charlotte Mason Homeschooler." I’m not one of those moms who researched all the various methods before choosing the perfect one. In fact, following someone else’s method of teaching goes against what I believe is one of the greatest benefits of homeschooling- education which is tailored to the needs and styles of the learners. But over time I discovered that many of the things which I began doing simply because they worked, were things which Charlotte Mason also used. One of these things was narration.

When I first started homeschooling our large family, it was easier to teach the children as a group whenever possible. Science, geography, and history were, until the older children began to work on their own, done together. Even the toddlers sat in on these lessons. The young ones were often fidgety and it was hard to know whether they were actually listening. In order to make sure they paid attention, I stopped often to ask questions. Thus, my children ended up narrating throughout the lesson. When we finished our reading, I asked one or two of the older children to tell me what we just learned. This gave the little ones a chance to hear the material one more time (they usually listened better to brother or sister) and they often wanted to add their own narrations as well. Having the children do narrations offered them an opportunity for friendly competition, as everyone wanted to be able to mention that one important fact that everyone else forgot.

I think the problem with using the term "narration" is that it takes something that is really very simple and makes it seem more complex. To me narration is nothing more than having a discussion about something you have learned. It is a tool for measuring learning, not a permanent record of that learning. It is a memory shared between two people, not something that must be recorded for all posterity. Most of the time I don’t require a written narration, especially if the child is still learning to read and write. However, when my children are old enough to begin working on their own, they do more written narrations. I still feel it is my duty to respond to these narrations, to guide them with more questions if necessary. That way we can still have that "discussion", even though it is on paper rather than being spoken.

Oral narration is one of the most effective methods of education, and yet one of the simplest. In the past it has been referred to as the Socratic method. In the Church, it is known as catechising. It basically involves asking questions and listening to the answers. When you are reading to your child or speaking to them about something, stop often to ask questions. Ask them to tell you what you have just said. Ask them their opinion of it. Ask them to apply it to their lives.

In his book Rediscovering Catechism, Donald Van Dyken explains it this way:

"To germinate the idea we can imagine ourselves on a ship looking for a submarine. The submarine hides below the surface of the ocean.Our ship is equiped with sonar, and our operator sends out sharp sounds into the dark waters. Those sound waves travel down through the water until they hit something. Sometimes they strike a school of fish, or the bottom, or the sub we are searching for. When those sound waves bounce off the hull of that sub, the sonar device picks up the echo. From that the operator can get a fix on the submarine’s position.

"That illustration introduces us to the teaching concept known as catechizing- sending out questions and listening for the echo, the answer that fixes the depth of knowledge and understanding."

The modern definition of teaching involves very little interaction between the student and the teacher. But as Van Dyken points out "Teaching is not only telling the truth but also making someone know the truth. . . We fall short of fulfilling the role of teacher if our students fail to know what we have presented." And how will we know whether we have failed without that "echo"?

The benefit of narration is that it gives almost instant feedback. There is no need to review months of material after a poor test score. If the student doesn’t understand, the echo will reveal it and more probes can be sent out until he is gently led to understanding. Narration also forces the child to internalize the lesson as he takes the information and puts it into his own words.

Narration doesn’t take a lot of time, and it isn’t complicated. It does, however, require a teacher who is willing to spend time listening to and interacting with her students. But that describes most home educators anyway, doesn’t it?

Creating a Geography Notebook (free printables}

What Should You Include?
Have you ever wondered what to put in a geography notebook? While the *exact* contents are totally up to you, perhaps you'd enjoy taking a peek inside some notebooks created by another family. Here are some of item we have included in our notebooks. I've included some pictures, as well as links to printables we used or printables that could be used instead of what we used.  

Our binders are divided into eight sections, one for general geography information and one for each continent. This is what you'll find in that first section:

*This post contains affiliate links.

Maps, Globes, & Explorers

  • World Explorer Biography Pages (If you are looking for info on explorers, you can find biographies of notable explorers at the Fact Monster website.)

  • Geography Terms and Definitions: Our list was actually a page copied from a library book, but I think it would be much more educational to have the children create their own list. As my younger children study geography this year, I will have them use Geography Terms Notebook Pages to make their own glossary.

  • Landforms Ready Reference: I picked up this card at Walmart during their back-to-school sales. I could probably have had the kids do some Landform Notebook Pages, but I liked this one-page handy reference guide. It looks nice, and it was inexpensive.

  • Notebook Atlas: Also purchased at Walmart (for a lot less than the Amazon price). Although it is small and details are sometimes hard to see, it can be used for most things that need to be looked up.

  • Compass Rose Worksheet

  • Latitude & Longitude Worksheets

  • Continents Map and List

  • Oceans of the World Map and List

  • World Map (drawn using Draw Right Now)

  • Map showing Plant Life on our Planet (pg. 76 of Considering God's Creation by Susan Mortimer)

  • Columbus pages (drawn using Draw Right Now)

  • Notebook pages and lapbook from Amy Pak's New World Explorer's study

Maps, Globes, & Explorers Freebies on Other Sites

Scroll down to the geography section for Geography Terms Tab Books and Geography Terms Notebook pages with Primary Lines or Basic Lines. (There are also some State Study Notebooking Pages and Country Study pages.)

Printable games and worksheets to teach students about landforms, such as plains, plateaus, mountains, and hills. There are two freebies, as well as many that come with membership to the site.

Montessori learning activity with free printable for learning about the compass rose. Includes cardinal points, half cardinal points, and false points.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Notgrass (Revised American History) Literature Selections In the Public Domain

In addition to revising their World History texts last year, the Notgrass company also revised their American History textbooks and brought them up to date. 

Even though the text has been updated, only one of the literature selections has been changed. This means, if you already own this program and decide to update, you will only need to buy one additional literature books in addition to the new textbooks. The new list substitutes Miracle In the Hills by Mary Sloop for Christy
1 new book and 1 removed

990695: Exploring America, Updated Edition -- Curriculum Package Exploring America, Updated Edition -- Curriculum Package
By Ray Notgrass / Notgrass Company
Updated Literature Titles:

  • The Scarlet Letter   Kindle   EPUB   Audio
  • Narrative of the Life of Davy Crockett   Kindle   EPUB 
  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass   Kindle   EPUB   Audio
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin   Kindle   EPUB   Audio
  • Co. Aytch  Kindle   EPUB   Audio
  • Little Women   Kindle   EPUB   Audio
  • Humorous Stories & Sketches (not available for free online)
  • Up From Slavery  Kindle   EPUB   Audio
  • In His Steps   Kindle   EPUB   Audio
  • Mama's Bank Account  (not available for free online)
  • Miracle In the Hills (not available for free online)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird  (not available for free online)
  • The Giver (not available for free online)

*This post contains affiliate links.

Remember to check your local library for print or audio versions of the books not available in the public domain. You can also purchase used versions of the literature books through sites like Amazon, Ebay, or Paperback Swap.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Notgrass (Revised World History) Literature Selections In the Public Domain

First, the good news: The Notgrass company has revised their World History textbooks and brought them up to date. The new version is currently at the printer, and they expect to start shipping the first week of April. 

Now, the bad news: As might be expected with an update like this, several of the literature selections have been changed. This means, if you already own this program and decide to update, you will need to buy some additional literature books in addition to the new textbooks. Actually, it really isn't that bad. The new list consists of just four new books, and two of these are available in the public domain. Five books which were previously included have been dropped from the list, including: Mere Christianity (this is still recommended as additional reading), Pilgrim's Progress, Pride and Prejudice, Heart of Darkness (my daughter was very pleased with this as she HATED this book), and Eric Liddell: Pure Gold. 

4 new books and 5 removed

Exploring World History
By Ray Notgrass / Notgrass Company

Updated Literature Titles:

  • The Cat of Bubastes   Kindle   EPUB   Audio
  • The Art of War Kindle  EPUB  Audio
  • Julius Caesar   Kindle  EPUB  Audio
  • The Imitation of Christ   Kindle  EPUB   Audio
  • Here I Stand   Kindle  EPUB   
  • A Tale of Two Cities  Kindle   EPUB   Audio
  • North and South  Kindle  EPUB  Audio
  • The Hiding Place (not available for free online)
  • Animal Farm (not available for free online)
  • Bridge To The Sun (not available for free online)
  • Cry, the Beloved Country (not available for free online)
  • The Abolition of Man  Kindle  EPUB   
    *This post contains affiliate links.

    Remember to check your local library for print or audio versions of the books not available in the public domain. You can also purchase used versions of the literature books through sites like Amazon, Ebay, or Paperback Swap.
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