How can we use themes to teach cultural geography?

Cultural geography is about more than where things are located on the earth. It's about what life is like all over the world. How do people live? What do we have in common? What is different?

If we really want to show children about life on different continents, we need to show them the SAME kinds of life on each continent. That means we show them a school on every continent, fishing on every continent, a wedding on every continent, a market on every continent, etc. 


Many of us have built our geography folders from magazine or printables that feature beautiful vistas or people/animals from around the world. But, these may not get at the heart of what we hope these materials teach: an understanding and appreciation of the similarities and differences of life around the world. 

weddings around the world

Presenting this equitable view is foundational for peace education. It helps us recognize that we are beautifully diverse in our cultural choices and fundamentally the same in our humanity. And it's so simple. We just need to compare apples to apples.

playing ball around the world

Our geography cards create an equitable and balanced view of life around the world because each continent packet within a series contains one image for 10 clearly defined concepts/themes. This allows children to compare and contrast clothing, food, transportation, etc. from continent to continent.

For example, in series two, there are the following 10 themes for each continent:

  • Playing ball
  • Small farming
  • A wedding
  • Taking a walk
  • Police officers
  • Fire fighters
  • A bus
  • A desert
  • A volcano
  • A street cleaner

But in series one and three we present 10 entirely different themes. Why? So we can maintain interest by rotating these pictures out from time to time. We don't want these materials to be dusty and old on the shelf. We keep them alive by keeping them new and fresh.

Try greeting the children in the morning and say, "There's something new in the geography folders today. I wonder if you can find what it is!" Then, sit back and watch the engagement as they sort and study and investigate.  

Once you have themed geography cards, there are so many ways to use them. Here's a short list:

  1. Talk about what you see and encourage the children to discuss the pictures together.
  2. Layout two folders at the same time and compare and contrast across themes.
  3. Layout many folders at the same time and compare and contrast across themes.
  4. Mix up the cards from two different continents and try to sort them out by continent.
  5. Mix up the cards from many different continents and try to sort them out by continent.
  6. Choose a favorite image and find its location on a puzzle map or globe.
  7. Choose a favorite image and write about it (with the movable alphabet or chalk or a pencil, whatever is appropriate for that child).

movable alphabet with geography folder

I hope this has inspired you to go with themes for your geography cards. In all of the work we do with children, we are creating a model for what humans are all about. We can use these materials as another opportunity to lay down strong roots for an accurate and equitable understanding of humans everywhere. 

September 25, 2023 by Julia Volkman
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