To start I first got them familiar with the concept of different sizes of locations, to do that we read the book Me on the Map (hyperlink goes to the activities we did), which I love.
Then we started with our home state of Texas. I firmly believe that kids are incredibly self-involved and they will remember more if you stick as much as possible to what they know. I thought about what I think would be important for a little kid to know about Texas. I decided I wanted them to know about our state flower, some of the local animals, and the state symbols. If I had been able to find an age appropriate book about the Alamo I would have included that, but I couldn’t find it.
As we progressed on to different states I look at each state based on how I can get a hook in for my kids. So, next we studied Wisconsin, because their Dad grew up there. After that we studied California, where I grew up. And slowly we moved to different states for different reasons (other family members, we traveled there).
Now, we’re getting to the point where we have no real tie-ins to the state we’re studying. At this point I’m letting them look at the United States map and choose a state. Currently we’re studying Florida.
Now, here’s a step by step of places I go, and what I want them to know about each state.
1. I go to the state’s website and look up their state symbols and see if they have any useful printables about their state. Here is a complete list of official state websites for kids. While I’m there I look for interesting history bits or facts that my kids might enjoy.
2. I check my evernote page for blog posts I’ve read about that state. Some blogs I read that regularly have geography post about the 50 states: Children Grow, Children Explore, Children Learn; Just Playing Around; Superheroes and Princesses; Layers of Learning; and Great American Postcard Swap. Often those blogs will have studied it before I have and it might give me some ideas to play around with.
3. I look up ideas at my local library. Anything that is related to the state. For instance looking up Washington does not get me much about the state of Washington at my local library. But, if I look up Mount Saint Helens I get some great books about the eruption and the volcano. A lot of times my further activities come from those books.
5. After that I see where their interests lead us. So, when we studied California, the kids had a lot of fun with the idea of finding gold, so we did a treasure hunt with “gold.”
For those who are curious, here’s the states I’ve completed so far:
Their memory of each state isn’t perfect, but they’re enjoying what we’ve learned and are having fun with it.