Emergent Curriculum Through Geography

 From Grizzly Bears to George Washington.”

We read a fact book on grizzly bears, which turned into a science lesson on salmon and bald eagles, and a geography lesson on Alaska and Mount Rushmore, and a math lesson on the dollar bill, and a history lesson on George Washington. How wonderful!

When we started reading the book on grizzly bears, we needed to identify Alaska, so we opened our big map book that we dearly love and use all the time, It’s a Big, Big World Atlas, to the United States. We love geography, and always start with Massachusetts, whether we are traveling to China, or finding Alaska. We found Alaska and talked about how far away it is from Massachusetts. At this point, we hadn’t even started to read the grizzly bear story, and we spent five engrossed minutes on geography. The big map book remained propped up as we read the entire story.

Our story was about a mother grizzly bear and her three cubs, from birth in the winter, to traveling to meadows, to learning how to catch salmon, and then surviving on their own. After learning that grizzlies catch and eat salmon, we turned the page, and there was a large picture of a bald eagle. No child knew what bird this was. One child said, “A wild turkey”, and another said, “A sea gull”. Of course this was a big discussion. When I told the children that it was a bald eagle, I also told them that it was the symbol of our United States of America. You could have heard a pin drop. Then I said, “Sarah, get me my wallet!” This was exciting, and the children watched as the wallet was opened and a one-dollar bill was produced. “The bald eagle is a symbol of our country, so let’s find it on our money”. Sure enough, we found it on the back. Now it gets really interesting.

When we turned the one-dollar bill over to look at the front, I paused and asked, “How do we know that this is one dollar?” We discovered the number 1 in each corner. Then a child pointed to the center of the bill and asked, “Who is that?” Of course it is George Washington. As soon as we talked about him and presidents, a child pointed to the big map book, which had been open the entire time, and said, “There he is!” Sure enough, there was George Washington, one of the presidents on Mount Rushmore, which was one of the drawings on North Dakota.

Who knew that a book on grizzly bears and our big map book would be the catalyst to teach us so much? It was certainly a powerful way for children to learn in many different areas, all under one umbrella. Next, I’ll tell you how our geography connects to chapter reading, music, social studies and history in a concrete way.  It’s a great story!


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty-five years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I was a live guest on the Kelly Clarkson Show. I am highlighted in the seventh edition of Jim Trelease's million-copy bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital, and the Massachusetts State House in Boston.
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