Geography Treasure Boxes

While creating my geography unit study lens, 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 aquaintances who like to travel. Sometimes you can find them in shops which sell collectables. 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 miniture 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 minitures of their own.

These would be the most fun if your child could wear them. But they coud also be doll-sized. If you are not handy at sewing, search the resale shops for likely items. We have also found lots of great costumes on the clearance racks after Halloween.

Small flags are another item which is easy to add to your boxes. These can be made using white cloth and fabric markers, or they can be purchased.

Music and Instruments
Your Continent Boxes include more than just things to touch or things to see. Try adding a CD with native music and national anthems or a few native instruments for the kids to play.

Additional Items
Here are a few more things you may want to include:
* samples of writing
* spices, ethnic foods, or recipes
* textiles (such as a piece of silk for China, plaid for Scotland, etc.)
* childrens’ books and folktales from or about each country
* paperdolls

Melissa Telling is a the homeschooling mother of seven: ages 3-12. They love notebooking, lapbooking, unit studies, and hands-on education. She is also the owner of Lilliput Station. Please visit Melissa at her blog.

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