Geography Using Map Questions

Geography Using Map Questions

About three years ago, while looking through the curriculum programmes in the Charlotte Mason Digital Collection (CMDC), my attention was drawn to the Geography section. Up to that point most of our geography study had involved looking up locations on a map before reading a chapter in our history books. That, and reading the books Ambleside Online scheduled every year under Geography, which consisted mainly of travel books and historical books covering a specific part of the world. We also read through some of Charlotte Mason’s Elementary Geography and muddled our way through the questions at the end of each section. To my surprise I discovered the study of geography in the PNEU was actually much more comprehensive than I had thought.

Early on in our homeschooling journey I felt the urge to add in other types of lessons and activities to these books. When my oldest, now sixteen years old, was in first grade I came across the book Me on the Map. We read the book together and drew maps and pictures along with each page. My second child would “study” the map of the United States on his own while I was doing lessons with his older sister. One day I walked into his room to see him arranging all his stuffed animals like “states” into the correct position on the “map” of his bed. During the next few years, I wondered why a Charlotte Mason education did not seem to include a study of countries around the world. I conducted a “non-Charlotte Mason” study of different countries, with maps, photos of the various locations, and stories about the people who lived in them. My children loved it. After that year we returned to pointing out locations on the map that were relevant to the books we were reading. Eventually I became curious to know more about how the PNEU conducted the study of geography.

I started my search by delving into several years of chronological curriculum programmes in order to get an idea of which books were used on a regular basis. As I read through the instructions, the use of maps in particular caught my attention. The Ambleside Geography Readers were mentioned every term for each form along with references to questions about maps. This led me to reading the preface in those books and scanning the table of contents to see what material was covered in a term based on the page numbers assigned in the programmes. I was familiar with Book I (Elementary Geography) by this time, but I had never taken a closer look at the successive books in the series. To my surprise Books II through V were nothing like the first one. Both the content and questions in these other books were very different.

I decided to research Charlotte Mason’s instructions for geography and specifically the map questions included in her Ambleside geography books in more detail. My journey took me down the following path:

  • What information did each of the Ambleside geography books cover?
  • What was the scope and sequence of the PUS?
  • What types of map questions were included?
  • How were maps and map questions to be used?
  • Could these same map questions be used today?
  • Would some information need to be updated or revised?
  • What were the students expected to recall at the end of the term for exams?
  • What other resources could be used in addition to the Ambleside books?

The Ambleside Geography Books

Charlotte Mason’s Geographical Readers for Elementary Schools were initially published between the years of 1881 and 1884 as part of The London Geographical Series, which included books by other authors. Her books were the only numbered ones in this series. They were referred to as London Geographical Readers in the 1905 programmes. Later programmes called them “Ambleside Geography Books.” The five books contained in the series were as follows:

Book Title Pub. Date
Book I Elementary Geography 1881
Book II The British Empire and the Great Divisions of the Globe 1882
Book III The Counties of England 1881
Book IV Europe 1883
Book V Asia, Africa, America, and Australasia 1884

Each successive book in the series increased in reading difficulty, amount of detail, and complexity of map questions. This correlated with the following recommendations listed in the front of each book:

Book I. for Standard II.
Book II. for Standard III.
Book III. for Standard IV.
Book IV. for Standard V.
Book V. for Standard VI.

Sometimes I skip over the preface when I read a book, but in this case I started there. Reading the preface to each book was eye-opening. I discovered that the maps were the focal point of geography:

Geography should be learned chiefly from maps, and the child should begin the study by learning “the meaning of a map,” and how to use it. (Mason, 1881a, p. iii)

While the focus of this article is maps, it is hard to avoid mentioning the other components of geography taught in Charlotte Mason’s method as they are so interconnected. One of the educational rules taught at the House of Education was: “Teach the thing itself before the symbol” (Wix, 1911, p. 47). With regards to geography, this happens by personal experience:

But, how to begin? In the first place, the child gets his rudimentary notions of geography as he gets his first notions of natural science, in those long hours out of doors of which we have already seen the importance. A pool fed by a mere cutting in the fields will explain the nature of a lake, will carry the child to the lovely lakes of the Alps, … In this connection will come in a great deal of pleasant talk about places, ‘pictorial geography,’ until the child knows by name and nature the great rivers and mountains, deserts and plains, the cities and countries of the world. (Mason, 1886, pp. 273–274)

The maps were the focal point, and books furnished the ideas which made the maps come alive, not the reverse, as I had previously assumed:

“The situation of the several parts of the earth is better learned by one day’s conversing with a map, than by merely reading the description of their situation a hundred times over in a book of geography.”—Dr. Watts, ‘On the Improvement of the Mind.’

It is hoped this little book may prove of use as a “Child’s Guide to the Map of the World.” The object of the reading lessons is to associate ideas of interest with the various States and regions of the world, with the situation of which the children are made familiar; … (Mason, 1882, p. v)

The preface to Book III provided more specific instructions regarding how the map questions were to be used:

It is earnestly recommended that teachers should require their classes to answer the set of map questions belonging to each county-map in writing; and, afterwards, vivâ voce, from memory. This exercise should secure an exact as well as intelligent knowledge of the geography of the several counties, and would furnish capital home work. The questions upon the map of the county should be answered before the lessons upon it are read; the children will thus be prepared to read with intelligent understanding, and will perceive that the text covers each county, bit by bit, in regular topographical order. A wall map of England should be used when the lessons are read. (Mason, 1881b, p. iv–v)

Vivâ voce means orally, rather than in writing. This correlated to instructions in the programmes:

Map questions to be answered from map in Geography Book and then from memory before each lesson.

The idea of capturing a picture in the “mind’s eye” keeps returning in Mason’s method:

It is told of Dr. Arnold that, when a place new to him was mentioned in his hearing, he was uneasy until he had gathered facts enough to present a picture of the spot to his mind’s eye. The writer has tried, in the following lessons, to excite and to gratify this kind of curiosity; to give such panoramic views of the natural divisions of each of the countries of Europe that the learner should be able to construct, roughly, the landscape of any tract pointed out on a blank map; a kind of exercise, by the way, which teachers would find extremely interesting and useful to their classes. (Mason, 1883, p. iii)

The map questions might furnish material for written composition for older students:

The questions should be answered in writing from the accompanying map; then, vivâ voce, from memory; and again, after the lessons upon a country have been read, the class should be required to answer map-questions on paper, filling in the outline with the facts learned from the text—a valuable exercise in composition. (Mason, 1883, p. v)

Book V again called attention to the map questions in the preface.

You can read the complete preface to each book here.

Scope and Sequence in the PUS

While the first book in the series included quite a few questions about geography concepts covered in the lessons’ readings, the questions in the later books focused solely on the atlas.

A detailed look through all the available programmes showed which books each of the forms was using. Janet Smith’s article in the Parents’ Review from 1913, “How We Teach Geography,” also included details as to which book each class was using at that time.

Form 1905 (Programmes 42–43) 1913 (PR24 pp. 522–528) 1921–1929 (Programmes 90–115) 1929–1933 (Programmes 115–127)
Form IB (Class IA) Book I Book I
Form IA (Class IB) Books I and II Book I Books I and II Books I and II
Form II (Class II) Books II and III Books II and III Book III Book III (Form IIB: Book II occasional option)
Form III (Class III) n/a Books IV and V Book IV Book IV
Form IV (Class III) n/a Books IV and V Book V Book V
Forms V–VI (Class IV) n/a Book V n/a Book V (Form V only)

Looking at the listing of standards mentioned in the front of the readers caused me to wonder what age they applied to. An undated pamphlet found in the CMDC entitled, “The Parents’ Union School: Public Elementary Schools,” matched up the standards with the forms used in the PUS:

The seven standards of Elementary Schools may be easily brought into line with the first four Forms of the P.U.S. Forms VI. and V., for which a large number of books is necessary, would not often be attempted in these schools.

Infants Class = Form IB Age 6-7
Standard I = Form IA Age 7-8
Standard II = Upper IA Age 8-9
Standard III = Form IIB Age 9-10
Standard IV = Form IIA Age 10-11
Standard V = Form IIIB (sic) Age 11-12
Standard VI = Form IIIA Age 12-13
Standard VII = Form IVB Age 13-14

The scope and sequence of the readers followed a whole-to-part approach reminiscent of Mason’s grammar instruction. Each book considered a whole continent before concentrating on individual countries or smaller regions. Book II started with the map of Europe before moving on to the British Isles and then the remaining continents of the world. Book III was a little different as it contained a detailed look at each of the counties of England. Book IV focused on the continent of Europe before studying the countries and empires within it. Book V followed the same model with Asia, Africa, South America, North America, and Australia.

As for the scope and sequence for my own family I am currently filling in holes with my middle and high school students. Fortunately I have the luxury of more time with my younger children so I am following a similar sequence as the PNEU with them: (1) starting Book I alongside stories of children from other countries, (2) continuing Book I with a brief introduction to the United States, followed by studying each of the continents, (3) North America and an in-depth look at each of the states, (4) Europe, and (5) remaining continents one-by-one.

Types of Map Questions

A couple things stood out to me once I started looking at Mason’s geography readers in detail:

  • the scope and sequence
  • the design of the map questions

Often, we ask a child to find a particular location on the map by giving him the place name. This leaves the child blindly searching for the word we have given him or “finding the names on his map or not,” as Charlotte Mason says in Home Education (Mason, 1886, p. 272). In the end the location is pointed out to them and the hope is that they will still be able to recall the information the next time the need arises. Miss Mason’s questions, on the other hand, direct them where they might find the location and focus their attention on physical features rather than words. Another educational rule taught at the House of Education was: “Never tell the pupil anything he can find out for himself” (Wix, 1911, p. 47). These thoughtfully designed map questions provide just enough assistance for the pupil to find the desired place for himself. Each subsequent question continues walking the child around the map.

In her article concerning “The Teaching of Geography,” Miss Pennethorne mentioned the importance of the concepts of latitude and longitude:

We do teach little people latitude and longitude, though this shocks some moderns, because we know that any map is meaningless to them until they have learnt its measure. (Pennethorne, 1956, p. 256)

Through these map questions the students were directed to notice and measure the length and breadth of various continents or countries. In addition, older students were asked to compare these measurements to where other cities, countries, and continents lay.

As I became aware of how valuable these questions were, I decided to make use of them. Unfortunately, Miss Mason did not provide the answers in her books so I began the process of studying the atlas in order to compile them for myself. We are providing a link here to all the map questions contained in Book II along with their corresponding answers.

I realized it was possible to modify these questions or create my own by following the format used in the Ambleside books. Combing through Book IV, I discovered, hidden on page 53 after the questions on the map of France, this note about varying the questions:

Note.—The “Map Questions” may be varied with advantage by an exercise like the following:—

Write, from the map, a description of ——, under the following heads:—

I. Boundaries.

II. Coast. Indented, or otherwise. Extensive, or otherwise. Openings—bays, gulfs, and river-mouths. Sea-board towns upon these. Capes. Islands off coast. Nearest land opposite to each coast. Facilities for foreign commerce.

III. Mountains. Names, position, and direction of ranges, and names of any summits or passes.

IV. Rivers. The source and direction of the principal rivers; the seas they fall into; the other countries, if any, through which they run before they enter, or after they leave ——. Their tributaries. Towns on their banks. Towns in their basins. (Mason, 1883)

I chose not to dwell on the use of town versus city in the map questions. Mason referred to towns overwhelmingly in Book II, but cities were often mentioned in Books IV and V. Some quotes in Lessons 31 (“Plan of a Town”) and 32 (“Plan of a County”) in Elementary Geography suggest that either the words were used interchangeably or “town” was a more generic term that included both larger cities and smaller villages. Even London was described as a town in the map questions, although it was labeled in large font (compared to the smaller italicized font used for other towns) on Mason’s map.

Book III covered the counties of England and was scheduled over all three years of Form II. I was surprised at the length of time the PUS spent studying the counties of England and the number of detailed questions for a country that is only the size of the state of Louisiana. Here is a sample of the questions on the shires of Cambridge and Huntingdon:

1. The Isle of Ely, in the north of Cambridge, is in the Fens;—name any cuttings which have been made to drain this low district. What river does the city of Ely stand upon? From what county does this river enter Huntingdon? What tributary joins the Ouse near Ely? What famous town stands on the Cam?

2. Name four other considerable towns in Cambridge. What hills are in the south of this county? What range extends into Hertford?

3. Name three towns in the little county of Huntingdon.

4. What four counties border Cambridge and Huntingdon? In what part of England do these two counties lie? (Mason, 1881b, p. 179)

Due to the immense size of the United States, I think it makes sense to look at one geographic region of the country at a time. We can follow Mason’s example of looking at the whole (region) before looking at each of the parts (states) in detail.

I noticed there was a certain amount of historical element to the map questions. While it was obviously important to learn the places and contemporary names on the current map, it was also desirous for the students to have an overlay within their mental map pictures of historical places and events as well.  Two examples of such questions are:

  • What is the low plain drained by the Tigris and Euphrates called? What famous cities of antiquity stood in this plain? (Mason, 1884, p. 37)
  • Name three battle-fields among the Cheviots, giving the date of each battle. (Mason, 1881b, p. 15)

Instructions for Using Map Questions

When I first started reading through the programmes, what drew my attention were the Geography Readers and the instructions to do “six map questions” before the reading. After reading the prefaces to the readers I wondered how the instructions contained in those compared to the programmes. Consequently, I compiled a list in order to view changes over time.

Programmes 90–127 (1921-1933)
Instructions IB IA IIB IIA III IV V* VI*
In every lesson there should be six “Ambleside” map questions before reading letterpress, then reading and narration. 102–120 102–120
Map questions to be answered before each lesson. 121–127
Map questions to be answered from map in Geography Book and then from memory before each lesson. 90–99 90–99
Map questions to be answered from map and names put into blank map (from memory) each lesson. 90–99 90–99
In all cases, “Ambleside” map questions to be answered from map before each lesson; then reading and narration; memory sketch maps. 100–127 100–127 100–127 100–127
All Geography to be learnt with map [or atlas]. 90–127 90–127
Ten minutes’ exercise on map of the world each week. 99–127 99–127
Ten minutes’ exercises on the map(s) of the world [or Great Britain or British Empire] each week. 90–127
Ten minutes’ exercises on the map(s) of the world [or Europe or Empire] each week. 90–127
For further map practice, From Pole to Pole 118–120 118–120
Regional map studies. 124–127
The English Speaking Nations, … with Ambleside Geography Book V., … for reference and map work. 118–123
Summarise readings by memory maps on blackboard. 115–127 115–127

* Forms V and VI programmes are only available for Programmes 115-127

What did a lesson look like using the map questions? How did the map questions fit into the whole geography scheme laid out in each programme? How did all the elements work together? Where in the time table did each of these lessons occur?

Here are some memorable quotes I came across while searching out answers:

The method adopted here to reconcile the scientific view of geography with that of the humanistic as presented by the P.N.E.U. is by the use of a series of maps of each country studied. The child virtually makes its own atlas which shows for each country, relief, temperature, productions, population, rivers, towns, etc. A great proportion of these facts are put in the blank maps actually as part of the narration while “scientific” comparisons as to cause and effect and the like are made under the heading of map questions. … In addition to general questions, the syllabus (exercises on maps of world each week) gives ample scope for dealing with definite world geography which arises in many lessons other than geography. (Household, 1925, p. 767)

We always begin by a study of the map for the new lesson and by answering questions on the map of the last lesson. After every lesson the children should be able to describe each region in a blank map, putting in names. (Smith, 1913, pp. 525-526)

These questions are, of course, put by the teacher (who must if necessary invent them herself), and should be answered by the pupils from the map only. (Heath, 1903, p. 931)

After a Geography lesson Miss Mason said that the previous knowledge of the children should be kept up by map questions. She also spoke of the disadvantage of doing the children’s work by answering questions for them, and of the necessity of gaining their attention at the beginning of a lesson. (Criticism, 1907, p. 35)

Maps—plenty of them—varied in form—and map exercises and questions—with the actual oral teaching must come first. Then the after-reading of the Ambleside books and the many “extras” and “related work” scattered about the programme. And lastly, reproduction by means of memory maps, answering map questions and writing composition. (Parkin, 1929, p. 384)

There is a “ten minutes exercise on the map of the world every week.” That is most wide. An enterprising teacher thinking ahead for twelve months could arrange a syllabus of thirty short lessons in “World” Geography which would meet all the expectations of modern theory in this respect. (Parkin, 1929, p. 386)

Some discussion followed on maps and their object, and the amount of time to be spent upon them. The general opinion was that rough sketch maps were most desirable, and stress was laid upon the value of the ten minutes “Map of the World” lessons every week. (Parkin, 1929, p. 388)

The more time I spent researching answers to my questions, the more I realized map questions were involved in two separate weekly lessons—a ten minute map exercise, which could be on anything, and a more detailed lesson, which typically followed a specified progression, using the geography reader. Eleanor Frost’s article describing a child’s morning shows what a ten minutes exercise on the map might look like:

The last lesson was a quick ten minutes’ practice on the map. “South America” was shown and the questions were all on the once-famous Inca Empire, which had incidentally come into the morning’s “General History” as a Spanish possession. Following in their own atlases, the children found the countries it had included and its boundaries; then the parallels of latitude and the parts of the other continents that lay between the same. From this and from a consideration of the position and direction of the “Andes” they deduced a few facts about the climate—at this point I read from “Pole to Pole” a short descriptive passage of the characteristics of the scenery. Next they found the four highest volcanoes and two of the chief towns. Then, after a few minutes in which to look at and memorise these places, the children shut their atlases and answered such questions as, “What are the boundaries of Ecuador?” “Which volcano lies directly south of Quito?” etc. The idea underlying such a lesson is, that it should be rapid oral work, to familiarise the pupils with maps, and must not be confused with the infinitely fuller and more detailed Geography lessons. (Frost 1915, p. 576)

Occasionally, in some of the programmes, From Pole to Pole was suggested for “map practice or exercise.” Notice only a “short descriptive passage” was read from the nine-page section on the Inca Empire in From Pole to Pole. The books, videos, pictures, etc. are only tools for the teacher to illustrate the ideas conveyed in the map, which is the central element.

Another element I noticed was the progression through the forms, from learning what a map is and how to read it, to studying maps and answering questions about them, to summarizing readings by making maps from memory. I am still learning how to implement everything, but the following resources have been very helpful to me in understanding the practical implementation:

Preparing Questions for Use

My personal process for preparing map questions to be used in our home schoolroom might be different from what someone else chooses to do, but I thought it would be helpful to share it in case you decide to use the list of questions and answers from Book II we are providing here. It is very likely you will want to make some modifications and additions to this list. My process is as follows:

1) Determine Mason’s answer to the questions by referring to her map(s) and text in the geography readers. This enables me to know what information she wanted the students to discover. This also helps me decide if or how to make any revisions.

2) Update any revisions to places or names. Sometimes this involves a simple name change. Other times I change the wording of the question itself or add additional questions.

3) Make sure locations are referenced on the atlas(es) my students will be using. The central element to these geography lessons is the map itself so it is important the questions reflect the atlas the student is studying. Atlases vary greatly in the amount of detail they provide, especially regarding cities and towns, bays and capes, mountain ranges, and rivers. I usually ask about the largest or most important of these. I create questions for areas that I would like them to look at in more detail. Many times we use more than one atlas or map for our studies.

4) Appropriately eliminate or add questions to coordinate with other books. Locations mentioned in additional geography books are incorporated. This is also when I add historical locations or landmarks which may be mentioned in current or past years’ readings.

Revisions and Updates

It was immediately obvious that revisions would be needed to the Geography Reader maps for my purpose. Some of the most significant changes have occurred in Europe and Africa. Empires split into separate countries. The breakup of the Soviet Union and political unrest in Eastern Europe completely altered boundaries in that part of the world. Mason mentioned that a great part of the interior of Africa was yet unknown at that time (Mason, 1882). And only 39 states had been officially admitted to the union of the United States at the time of the first printing of the Readers.

The decline of colonization in the 20th century also led to dramatic changes. Today’s world map contains many smaller countries instead of large empires. However, some of this historical information can be conveyed by changing the wording of Mason’s questions. It is still useful to know what country an island or area previously belonged to as that ownership typically influenced the area and the people who live there.

Another element of my updates has been name changes. Charlotte Mason tended to use English versions of names, whether it be names of composers or names of places. Locations in current atlases adhere closer to native spellings so I have modified them to match our maps. Changes to Chinese place names were a little more complicated. At first, I assumed the actual names had changed. But after more research I realized just the English versions of the names had changed. The Chinese names, represented by characters instead of letters when written, might be pronounced differently depending on language and local dialect. The pinyin system, now the current standard, is modeled after the Mandarin pronunciation. The names which Mason used in her books rely on romanization of regional pronunciations before pinyin was established. Based on advice from a contact living in China I decided to use the pinyin spellings. Although, for the most part, I have kept both names when referring to larger or more historically significant cities.

Some updates to the Ambleside Geography Books were carried out during Charlotte Mason’s lifetime and afterwards. I assumed there were some differences between the original London Geographical Reader and Ambleside Geography Reader editions, but I was unable to verify that. In later years I noticed programmes 102–105 (April–July 1925 through April–July 1926) did not follow the typical schedule of the earlier and later programmes. Instead they referred to revisions being made to the Ambleside Books and included optional page assignments for alternative books to Book II (Form I) and Book IV (Form III). An appendix to Book IV, entitled “Reconstruction of Europe”, appeared to be a pamphlet printed by the PNEU around 1922. Programme 97 (September–December 1923) was the first one to mention using this appendix. Based on information in later programmes and references in the Parents’ Review, I have determined that revised editions of the books were published as follows:

Book I – 1926
Book II – 1926
Book IV – 1928
Book V – 1930

A copy of the 1928 edition (third revision) of Book IV on Europe, revised by R. B. Westmacott, resides in the Armitt Museum. The following is an excerpt from the preface:

As soon as the Peace Conference commenced its sessions on the termination of the World War, geographers were unanimously agreed that the Map of the World as it stood in 1914 would almost immediately become obsolete, and that the history of the European States was about to start upon an entirely new phase of its development.

To bridge the gulf of reconstruction an Appendix, together with a double sheet of corrections to Book IV, was published six years ago which satisfactorily met the temporary need. Since then the growing consolidation of the political divisions of Europe has evoked the necessity for an entire and thorough revision of the volume, with which task it was my privilege to be entrusted. (Westmacott, 1928, p. v)

Some of the major events and changes which occurred after Mason’s geography readers were originally written include: World War I, World War II, the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Vietnam War, India’s independence from Britain, the Korean War, and changes in Eastern Europe.

Even now it can be challenging to keep up with political changes on the map. While proofing the answers for Book II we discovered Macedonia had officially changed its name to North Macedonia in 2019, which is not reflected in my most recent atlas. Simply pointing out a change like this to your student can suffice, but it might be more beneficial to use it to lead into a discussion on the reason(s) for the change.

Exam Questions

The PNEU exam questions are a helpful tool because they give us some concept of the type of work and knowledge recall expected from students in different forms at the end of a term. Here are some examples with their corresponding page assignments from the geography readers:

Form IA

  • What do you know about the fiords of Norway, the Siberian plain, an Arabian desert? (Book II, pp. 100–129)
  • Can you draw the shape of India? What do you know about (a), the climate, (b), the river Ganges? or, What do you know about (a), John Chinaman, and (b), Hong-Kong? (Book II, pp. 130–164)
  • What do you know about Columbus? Tell six things about Canada. (Book II, pp. 164–200)

Form IIB

  • Describe a visit to Derbyshire. (Book III, pp. 65–102)
  • What do you know of (a), the salt beds of Cheshire, or the Welsh Marches, (b), the Bristol Channel? (Book III, pp. 65–102)

Form IIA

  • Give a map of Wiltshire, putting in the boundaries, chief towns, and physical features. (Book III, pp. 241–276)
  • What do you know about Stonehenge, Chippenham and Salisbury? (Book III, pp. 241–276)

Form III

  • Draw a map of Germany, putting in the States, chief physical features and towns. Describe a journey down the Rhine. (Book IV, pp. 142–187)

Form IV

  • Give some account of the mountain States of South America. (Book V, pp. 161–209)
  • Describe the physical features, climate and industries of Cape Colony. Name its towns. (Book V, pp. 161–209)
  • What do you know of the Eastern (United) States, their situation, industries and towns? (Book V, pp. 210–267)
  • What are the Republics of South America? Describe one of them, or, What changes have taken place in Eastern Europe since the war? Sketch map. (Book V, pp. 210–267)

Other Resources

Upon reading through the Ambleside Readers (Books II through V) it became quickly apparent to me that they could not be read “as is.” In lieu of having a book which I could read from verbatim, I pulled from a variety of books and other sources. Now that I know everything centers around the maps, I look for photographs and videos which illustrate the area on our maps and the people, animals, and plants that live there.

This seems to fit with Miss Heath’s advice:

I would suggest, in conclusion, that much use may be made of photographs, or even the picture postcards so easily obtained nowadays, to interest the children in their studies. … think of the added joy of a lesson when there are the new cards to be looked at, the places they illustrate to be searched for on the map, and the description of the same to be read in the book. The “Perry Pictures” too are useful for this purpose, and might be distributed among the class at the finish of the lesson, … (Heath, 1903, p.936)

Miss Pennethorne said, “[We] have a definite tradition of linking geography to all world knowledge—art, architecture, geology, astronomy, biology, botany and general world history” (Pennethorne, 1956, p. 255). Which means there is no end to possible resources. Some our family has enjoyed are:

  • Videos about children or families who live in other countries
  • Photographs of homes in other places and the household items in them
  • Documentaries about animals, people, or scenery
  • Books about how people live or the food they eat
  • Photographs or books about the architecture in an area
  • Travel guide videos

Observations and Thoughts

A few years ago, I made the decision to make a concerted effort to incorporate map questions into our schooling. As my understanding of the method has grown, we have made changes in how we carry this out, but this is our current process for geography lessons using map questions:

1) Use atlas(es) to answer questions about the map, either orally or in writing.
2) If done in writing, read through answers together to make sure they are correct.
3) Read books or use other resources that give a glimpse into the terrain, flora and fauna, and people who live in the area, as well as its history.
4) Answer map questions orally without looking at the map.
5) Draw a sketch map of the area from memory.
6) Use questions as a composition prompt (high school students).

As a result, I’ve noticed our experiences with other books and events have been enriched. When I hear about events currently going on around the world, such as the origin of the coronavirus pandemic and protests in Hong Kong, I now have a picture in my mind of the map and understand where these locations are relative to one another. Recently I studied the map of the British Isles while preparing map questions for my children. Shortly afterwards I was reading a book about the Spanish Armada (The Voyage of the Armada: The Spanish Story by David Howarth). One chapter elaborated on the portion of the armada which tried to return to Spain by going around the north side of the British Isles. There were many descriptions of the different islands and bays around Scotland and Ireland where the various ships wrecked. Because I had a mental image of this area, I was better able to keep track of the story and envision what was happening.

We don’t have to pull out a map every time a location is mentioned in our reading because my older children have a mental map they can refer to. The climate of any area can be inferred by looking at the terrain and latitude. The paths of rivers on the map help us understand the topography of the land they pass through. Current events begin to make more sense when you are familiar with the region or regions where they are occurring. An understanding of how the physical geography learned from maps affects each country’s relationships with its neighbors is developed over time. Add to that the building up and linking of a knowledge of history over time and even more connections are made.

It is only more recently that I’ve found more specific instructions on what the “ten minutes exercise on the map of the world every week” should look like. I plan on adding that to our lessons for next school year and I’m excited about the opportunity it will provide to enhance our history books and current events.

I wish I could find modern versions of Mason’s geography readers containing a narrative which intends “to associate ideas of interest with the various States and regions of the world, with the situation of which the children are made familiar; and, at the same time, to convey in simple language a few of the leading facts and principles of Geography” (Mason, 1882, p. v). Unfortunately, many geography books available today are outdated, focus on isolated aspects of geography, or just read too much like a textbook, focusing on “dry facts and figures” (Mason, 1886, p. 272).

In the meantime, I work on developing questions and using a combination of sources which complement the maps, while keeping my eye out for books which share Mason’s objective:

While endeavouring to make clear statements, and to use simple language, the writer has not been careful to give the sort of “cut-and-dried” explanation of every allusion, which leads children to suppose that there is nothing more to be learnt. Grown-up people find hints of matters of which they know nothing great incentives to further reading: it is hoped that these Readers may help to form in the children a taste and desire for such profitable reading as of books of travel and general history; and, “That is something for you to read about by-and-by,” is a suggestion from the teacher which should bear fruit in the after lives of his pupils. (Mason, 1883, p. v)


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Frost, E. (1915). Impressions of conference work with class II. In The Parents’ Review, volume 26 (pp. 573–578). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

Heath, C. (1903). The uses of books in geography. In The Parents’ Review, volume 14 (pp. 930–936). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

Household, H. (1925). Notes for the conference of July 18th, 1925, on P.N.E.U. methods. In The Parents’ Review, volume 36 (pp. 751–784). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

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Mason, C. (1881b). The counties of England. London: Edward Stanford.

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Mason, C. (1884). The old and the new world: Asia, Africa, America, and Australia: the causes which affect climate; and the interchange of productions. London: Edward Stanford.

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Parkin, B. (1929). The teaching of geography. In The Parents’ Review, volume 40 (pp. 381–388). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

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Smith, J. (1913). How we teach geography. In The Parents’ Review, volume 24 (pp. 522–528). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

Westmacott, R. (1928). The countries of Europe: their scenery and peoples with some account of the motions of the earth, etc. London: Kegan Paul, Trench Trubner & Co.

Wix, H. (1911). Mrs. Curwen’s method. In L’Umile Pianta, June, 1911 (pp. 46–51). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.

Dawn Tull has been homeschooling her children using Charlotte Mason’s methods since 2009. Although earning an MS in Business Management has left her underqualified to manage her own household, she has slowly been accepting the fact her four children were born unique persons. After relocating their family numerous times, she and her husband Donnie, currently live near Knoxville, TN in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Researching and pursuing the truth is important to her and has given her a heart for supporting and encouraging other homeschool families. She enjoys studying and discussing Miss Mason’s philosophy with a local study group and taking advantage of the outdoors with a natural history club.

©2020 Dawn Tull

3 Replies to “Geography Using Map Questions”

    1. Are you asking about the complete text of Mason’s Geography Readers (Books II-V)? Or the map questions from Books III-V?

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