Monday, February 13, 2012

Adventures in Geography

My daughter loves maps. Probably not surprising for a child who has traveled as much as she has. She likes to pore over atlases and draw her own maps to guide us on our walks around town. It has been difficult, though, to explain to her the relative positions of the different countries when each is on a separate page and there is no (!!) actual world map in the whole atlas!

We got her a children's atlas for Christmas and were delighted to find it had a wall map of the world in the back. We put it up a couple of weeks ago and since then K has been demanding instruction in geography. She can locate America, the Czech Republic, UK, Russia and New Zealand so far, plus the American, British, Czech and Slovak flags (at the bottom of the map).

She likes to point to each country and ask who she knows there. Answers like "lots of Chinese people" don't really cut it, either - she wants to know who she, specifically, knows in that country. Or failing that, who do I (Mama) know there? She does know people from a lot of different countries, in fact, so I guess it's not a stretch for her to imagine that she must know someone in every country in the world.

K was highly disappointed when she saw how big the Czech Republic and Slovakia are compared to bigger countries like Russia, China and America. "But Prague is SO BIG!" she objects. (She is constantly surprised that we are STILL in Prague when we go to another neighborhood.) It's disconcerting to see yourself as part of the big picture, I suppose, isn't it?

And then last night we had the following exchange:

Me: "That's South America. And that one up there is North America. Those are TWO SEPARATE CONTINENTS."
Matus: "One..."
Me: "And there are SEVEN continents in the world."
Matus: "Six..."
Me: "Here, let me show you them."
*race to see who reaches the map first to indoctrinate our child with the correct number and division of continents, while K shrieks in laughter*

This goes back to one of M and my biggest and most surprising (for being completely out of left field) cultural differences: after a few years of marriage I said something about "all seven continents" and it was out! He'd never heard of seven continents and I'd never heard of six, except for those who combine Europe and Asia into Eurasia. I felt like he'd told me there are actually two moons and we all live on the bottom of the ocean, or something. It was presented as a simple fact in school, seven continents, end of discussion. Turns out kids are taught seven, six or even five continents depending on where in the world they are. M was taught six continents, Europe and Asia separate but the Americas joined. He was offended when I suggested we could agree on six continents, with the Americas separate and Eurasia joined...

So of course I had to seize the opportunity to get my point of view in K's head first! In the explanation of what a continent is (as opposed to a country) we also had some political commentary: "America is actually called the United States of America, and it's just one country in North America. Even though it tends to think it's the only one."

I am occasionally struck, when teaching K about something new, by the political or ideological choices that have to be made in what you teach. Are there six continents or seven? Eight planets or nine? Do you give the short answer or the long? IS A TOMATO A VEGETABLE OR A FRUIT??? And that's not even touching on how to present historical events.

For the record, I go for seven continents, nine planets (I ignore the recent marginalization of Pluto in scientific circles) and tomato as a vegetable. I'm a traditionalist in a few areas it seems.


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