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Handel on the Map

By Maggie S. Hogan


Is geography a "lost" subject?

According to the National Geographic-Roper Global 2002 Geographic Literacy Survey, assessing the geographic knowledge of young adults ages 18 - 24 in nine countries:

1 in 10 young Americans could not locate his own country on a blank map of the world.

Only 13% of young Americans could find Iraq on a map of the Middle East/Asia.

The majority of the young people surveyed knew that the Taliban and al-Qaida were based in Afghanistan, but only 17% could find that country on a world map, despite recent events.

But how are homeschool students faring? We've all read about the great showings our young people are making at the National Geography Bee. And they aren't stopping there, either. One of many examples is Damini Ogunnaike, the 1997 Delaware state winner. He's now a Harvard-bound senior, planning to major in neuroscience. However, judging from conversations I've had with thousands of families over the last decade at conferences, geography is still a "lost" subject in many homeschools.

No mom relishes the thought of teaching "one more subject." Isn't there a painless method of incorporating geography into life? Yes! Actually, there are many possibilities but right now we'll focus on one simple way: Biography Geography.

Before we get started, let's make sure you have the tools needed to do the job. Gather together any geographic reference materials you can find. If you’re like me, keeping your geo-tools handy makes actually using them much more likely!

Do you have an age-appropriate atlas? You need one that's reasonably current (your college atlas probably doesn't count) and isn't too hard for younger kids or too easy for the high school crowd.

How about a historical atlas? I remember the frustration I felt trying to look up place names that no longer exist when we first studied early world history. Thebes? Gaul? Where were they then and what would we call them today? A historical atlas solves that problem. Similarly, when studying the Old or New Testament, a Bible atlas is indispensable.

Also, in our house, a large, laminated outline map of the world gets a tremendous amount of use. My high schooler generally prefers his maps to be notebook size. Large and small maps have their advantages and disadvantages so experiment with different sizes.

Let's try Biography Geography using the subject of Diana Waring's article "George Friedrich Handel: Composer of Messiah" which preceded this article.

This list of questions is a starting place.

Consider your children's ages.

Don't overdo it; rather, work your way up to more in-depth studies as your kids' skills progress.

Materials Needed

Atlases, both historical and current

Reference material on George Friedrich Handel

Photocopy of world map on next page. (Preferably enlarged.)


Answer these questions and then label your map accordingly.

1. In what city was Handel born? Put a blue star on the city. What do we call the country it is in today?

2. Handel spent several years in Italy. Find and label in green three of the Italian cities in which he resided.

3. Where is Handel buried? Draw a red cross there.

4. The Qing Dynasty ruled which country during Handel's lifetime? Color its borders in yellow.

5. Peter the Great was the ruler of which country during Handel's lifetime? Color its borders in red.

6. The Blue Mosque in Istanbul was designed by Mehmet Agha and built between 1606 and 1616. Label this city on your map.

7. The College of William and Mary was founded in 1693 in a famous city on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Discover the name of the city and draw it on your map.

You can easily come up with a similar list for any person you are studying. Better yet, make a family game of it and create your own list. Notice how in the sample above I included other people and events from a similar time frame. This helps to put the person you are studying in context with other people and world developments. Additionally, by making a habit of discovering these kinds of details, your whole family will pick up lots of interesting knowledge. Rabbit trails are a great bonus to studying geography!

Keep a simple timeline. You'll never regret doing this! Tip: Stick a picture of the person on the appropriate place on the timeline and stick a duplicate of the picture on your outline map. (Print pictures off the Internet, purchase timeline figures, copy pictures from books, or make your own.) Now it's easy to see at a glance both WHEN he lived as well as WHERE he lived.

Biography Geography invites a treasure trove of possibilities! Pull out your tools and go geo-hunting!

Maggie S. Hogan is the author of Hands-On Geography, co-author of The Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide and Gifted Children at Home. She and her husband Bob live in Delaware where they began homeschooling their two sons in 1991. Their oldest, JB, serves in the US Army and their youngest son, Tyler, created the map within this piece. Contact Maggie at for comments on this piece or to learn more about Maggie Hogan.


Copyright 2003. Originally appeared in Spring 2003.
Used with permission.
The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.


 From Maggie Hogan

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