Category Archives: Social Studies

Geography Game(s) for Toddlers and Preschoolers

To celebrate July 4th, why not pull out (or purchase) a US map puzzle!

J adores maps.  I think his fascination began because of his love for puzzles.  His grandma bought him a USA board puzzle back when he was one year old that required a little more skill than all the other pegboard puzzles and I guess he liked that challenge.  We have since bought quite a few map activities and puzzles as he remains fascinated.  My thought is run with what they enjoy!  Most of what he’s learned, he’s initiated on his own.  I don’t consider knowledge of all 50 states or all 7 continents essential for a 2 year old but since he’s continually asking questions, we answer and encourage that interest.   

I do find that maps offer great practice with shape recognition, spacial recognition, directional and locational instructions (north/south, above/below), and even speech as he practices saying each name (many of which are not easy for adults to pronounce, let alone a toddler).  These are all great benefits!   

So onto our geography games

1. Bean bag drop – This came about on the fly after he completed one of his puzzles.  I pulled out some bean bags (ours are each a different color) and started calling out a color bean bag for him to use and then a state to distinguish.  He would then try to drop the bean bag on top of that state while standing straight above it.  This was my attempt to encourage some practice with motor skills and hand-eye coordination while taking advantage of his interest in maps.  We first tried tossing it to the appropriate state, but he is far from able to accomplish that.  We then reversed rolls and he called out a color beanbag and a state for me to hit.  

2. Flying across the US - We’ve also played a similar game using our map puzzles and a free helicopter we got from a fast food kid’s meal.  If you pull the tail of the helicopter the propeller flies off and lands, spinning like a top.  So we used that, again practicing motor skills (to work the toy) and he had to name the state that the spinning propellers landed on. 

3. Photos across the USA/World - J has family all across the country (and world), so this game is something he can relate very well too.  We use photos of family members for him to place in the correct state or country.  I often pull this out when we’re about to travel so that he can get a good idea of where we’re going.  He flies his toy plane from one place to the other, mimicking what we will do in the air (or car if we’re driving).  We also use favorite characters/toys to help him relate to the state (ex: Mickey Mouse lives in Florida, cars are made in Michigan… a generalization of course, but something a 2 year old can relate to).

4. Twister Geography – You would need a large map for this activity (we use the foam floor maps).  He has to touch a certain location with a designated body part.  “Right hand on Georgia!” or “Left wrist on the Pacific Ocean!”  So far J can only handle one set of instructions at a time.  With preschoolers you could give multiple instructions similar to the game Twister.

I’m actually really excited about his love for geography (since I love it too!).  As a jr. high teacher we did a ton of geography games and activities that I’m currently trying to figure out how to adapt for a toddler.

So what is your little one interested in?  Maybe it’s not geography but cars or animals. How can you use that interest to capitalize on other skill practice (perhaps even more needed skill practice)?

Age attempted: 34 months

Here are some of the map products we have that have served their purpose well:

Battat Wooden USA Puzzle: My mom got J a set of puzzles that included this.  This was his first map puzzle.  There are no pegs in the US puzzle.  He played with the others in the set much earlier since they had pegs and were far more simple.  The states are mostly grouped together by region to create larger pieces (only Texas and California stand alone).  This isn’t a great puzzle for state recognition but it was a great transition puzzle from the simple wooden peg puzzles to the traditional cardboard puzzles. 

Imaginetics Magnetic USA Map - they simply lay each piece on top of the corresponding spot in the magnetic book.  This was J’s 2nd geography “puzzle” and worked well. Since you don’t have to complete the entire map, this was a good step up from the board puzzle.  We also used the magnetic sheet that each state came in as a shadow activity for shape recognition (just play on a cookie sheet).  Many of the pieces are small and a few with tiny parts have broken (Michigan and Maryland).  It is still worth the cost for us.

Melissa and Doug USA Puzzle - this is a cardboard puzzle we got J for Christmas; I should note that each state is cut according to its shape and does not have the traditional puzzle cutouts.  The border (oceans) fit together like a normal puzzle, but the states do not.  I love this feature.  J has had to learn how to deal with this so that the states aren’t moving around as he builds.  IMO this has helped him learn even more skills than a normal puzzle would offer, but it can be frustrating before they figure it out the best process.

Wonder Foam Giant USA Map -  J’s grandparents bought him this for Christmas (so yes, now he has two USA floor puzzles… and he loves them both!).  This is a very large puzzle.  Each state fits together like a traditional puzzle.  I like that they attempt to teach the general location of Alaska and Hawaii in relation to the continental US whereas most puzzles just place them in a corner. 

World Map Foam PuzzleWorld Map Foam Puzzle – This is a REALLY large puzzle with very thick pieces so it is very sturdy.   This map is pretty busy and a newer concept for J by introducing all the countires.   This is definitely one we work on together, though it’s amazing how fast you see improvment with practice!

Globe – When school supplies were really cheap at Target, I bought him a globe that he loves.  Since we have family both across the country and around the world, he has been encouraged to locate where they live on the globe.  I think a globe is a great resource/toy for kids since it really helps put geography into perspective.  Through playing with it and asking questions about it, he has learned the names of each continent (though he can’t locate them all).

Homemade Flag of Toys

We’ve been so busy, I needed some quick, no-prep needed activities for Independence Day.  This is one that I came up with…

I sent J through the house on a toy hunt.  He had to find

as many red and blue toys as possible.  Actually I tried adding white too, but we just didn’t have enough white toys. He LOVED this mission.  I was shocked at how long he stuck to it and how many toys he came up with.

Please ignore the child safety sticker on the lid. Like I said, last minute improvising!

The next step was to create our US Flag.  I was going to have him create it on the kitchen floor.  But since we didn’t have enough white toys, I improvised and pulled out a white storage lid instead.

I set out a picture of the US Flag and told him we were going to use the toys to create our own flag.  The only part he needed me for was help with making the blue shaped like a square.

He was so proud of the final result and insisted we keep it out for dad to see.

Teaching Thanksgiving to Toddlers and Preschoolers

This is really the first year I included lessons on Thanksgiving prior to Thanksgiving day. The majority of what we do comes in day to day conversations.  I’ve used books, pictures, activities, games, and videos to give J a visual image of the different aspects of Thanksgiving.  You don’t have to do ALL of them, one book or one activity is enough to jump start many conversations throughout your day.  In my experience, those conversations are where they learn the most.  They are often asking questions and therefore paying close attention to the answers.  It’s all really simple and easy to do.  

Here are a few resources I used to help me introduce the history and purpose of Thanksgiving to J (at 2.5 yrs old). You might have seen most of these links on my Thanksgiving index post, but I wanted to highlight a few that have been helpful for us in teaching.

SCRIPTURE:

Thankfulness List - “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. —Psalm 9:1″ You don’t have to WOW them with fancy crafts, the beauty of a toddler!   I wrote the scripture on construction paper, we talked about it and then taped it up where near where he plays.  There’s a cup of strips nearby to add new things as inspiration strikes him.  My goal is to help him learn how to recognize things he’s thankful for all throughout the day and to thank God right then and there.  This means we stop whatever we’re doing to add to the poster.  It’s worth that tiny effort.  I review the scripture each time and we say a quick thank you prayer for that particular “wonderful deed” God did (or allowed in J’s life). 

SONG:

“If I Were a Butterfly” – This is an adorable song that kids love about being thankful for how God made us.  I played this song for him (used just the audio from youtube since the pictures weren’t great IMO) and had pictures of the different animals up on the computer.  I just copied the pictures real quick from google images.  He could follow along with the song by pointing at the different animals.  Now we sing it together all the time.  Sometimes we pull the pictures out again and he can choose which animal to sing about next, sometimes he calls out a random animal and I make up a verse about it.  We make it a fun game this way. 

BOOK:

“Let’s Celebrate God’s Blessings On Thanksgiving” by Lise CaldwellI loved how this book incorporates the history of Thanksgiving, applicable scripture and the modern day Thanksgiving our little one’s will experience.  (I found it for $2 at our local Christian Bookstore)

Holidays Around the World: Celebrate Thanksgiving: With Turkey, Family, and Counting Blessings“Celebrate Thanksgiving with Turkey, Family, and Counting Blessings” by Deborah Heiligman - I like to use non-fiction books as well as fiction, just to get J used to seeing both type of books.  This is a book published by National Geographic that takes you from Pilgrims on the Mayflower to the Thanksgiving parade to pumpkin pie.  I wouldn’t buy this book, but it’s a helpful library check-out this time of year. 

VIDEOS:

“The Story of Thanksgiving Basically” – This is a cute cartoon video that tells the BASIC story (with some humor) and does a decent job connecting it to our lives today.  It’s no more than 2 minutes long, so will easily keep the attention of young ones. 

This is America, Charlie Brown, The Mayflower Voyagers – this video is longer than the first one I linked to, but does OK at telling the story in a way little ones can understand.  (the link will bring you to part one of the story; here’s part two)

CRAFT:

Pilgrim, Pilgrim – This is a create your own coloring book about the pilgrims.  It’s told in a similar fashion to Brown Bear, Brown Bear.  I was surprised at how into coloring J was on this activity.  We just added a few quick staples and were done, nothing flashy.  We now have a good review book. 

Crafty Canned Food Drive - I love this (scroll down to the bottom of that link to see the canned food “craft”).  This is so simple, yet a great way to incorporate the lesson of WHY we give and be a witnessing tool as well.  You can bring this back to the history of Thanksgiving by explaining how we can be a blessing by bringing food to others, just like the Native Americans blessed the Pilgrims. 

GAME:

Thanksgiving through pictures - J loved this game and still asks to play a full week later.  You can choose whichever Thanksgiving images you want to reinforce whichever aspect of Thanksgiving you want.  I made both cards for the historical aspect of Thanksgiving as well as images of things J will actually see when the family gets together. 

LEARNING:

Thanksgiving Worksheet Packet – These are printable worksheets that add Thanksgiving imagery to basic skills like letters, writing, colors, sorting, and counting. They are really well done.  We won’t be doing all of the pages, but I’ve chosen a few that will challenge J.

4th of July Activities in action (part 1)

So today we did the first few activities from my 4th of July list.  I thought if we’re gonna celebrate Independence day, he needs to know a little more than red, white, and blue :)  So we started with the country we live in.  My goal was for him to recognize the map of the U.S., know that he lived there (and maybe even pinpoint the location on the map), know our country’s name (shortened to USA since he is a toddler!) and recognize our flag.  Too much?  I figured it doesn’t hurt to try.  There is no test in the end, so we succeed no matter what.  And I’m a former history teacher, so we’re stepping into mommy’s interests!

1. Introduction to U.S. map – I found a dry-erase map of the U.S. in the dollar section at Target and finally put it to use.  I explained that it was a map of the U.S., we traced around the borders with the dry-erase marker (his first time to use one and he thought it was cool!).  I then explained that this was where we lived.  We drew a dot there and I set a small picture of our family next to the dot (I use pics a lot to help him visualize).  I then put a dot where J’s grandparents live and we placed a small picture of them next to the spot.  I  drew dashes to connect the two spots and pulled out J’s toy airplane to show how we fly back and forth to visit.  He connected the dashes (kinda) to create a line between the two spots and then just drew all over the map!  At some point he noticed that the backside had a map too and wanted me to point our home and Grandpa’s home out once again.  When dad got home that night, I brought the map back out and J was excited to show off where everyone lived and how we fly from one place to the other.   

**I’m excited to go back to the map some time in the future and learn where other close family members live, but for now I thought 2 was enough!

2. U.S. poster (letters, flags, and map) – I printed out a simple map of the U.S. and we again labeled where we live as well as J’s grandparents.  I had some USA stickers that he placed on the paper, allowing me to emphasize our country’s name.  Then I let him glue a few printouts of the U.S. flag on the page too.  My goal was for him to start connecting the three (map, name, flag) together. 

3. U.S.A. letter activity - I wrote down USA at the top of the paper and he used that as a model to glue letter printouts in order.  It was the first time I’ve introduced the letters U and S, so it was a lot at one time.  It really became practice in following directions for him more than anything. 

**We taped both #2 and #3 activities on the front door so that there will be lots of opportunities to review.

 

4.  Decorated the flower bed with U.S. flags

5. Decorated the storm door with 4th of July gel stickers

Each rectangle looked something like this

6.  Counting stars and stripes - We’ve been focusing no the number 3 recently, so I included some stars and strips in our counting practice.  We have some sliding doors that have molding throughout to create multiple rectangles in the windows (that’s the best way I can think to explain it, I’m sure lots have something similar).  I taped the number 3 inside one of the rectangles and then had J place 3 stars and 3 stripes inside each rectangle.  We used gel stickers for the stars and I just cut the stripes out of red construction paper prior to the activity.

All the activities combined probably took a grand total of 30 to 40 minutes tops (with the exception of #5 and #6 which were done a few days prior).  They were all spaced out throughout the day rather than all back to back. 

Age: 26 months