Conversations With Maps

Geography.  Now here is a subject that Mason has completely brought to life for our family. Mason states that within the study of Geography "the main and perhaps most important aspect is furnishing the mind with ideas and the imagination with pictures." (Vol. 1, p. 272)  Probably the first step is simply getting in  the habit of always looking at a globe or atlas and locating the places mentioned in the readings. No, actually it would be all the  activities found in her first Geographical Reader as well as in Volume 1.  Indeed, there are a great many facets to Geography as mentioned by Ms. Mason.

Like everything in a relational education, Geography is part of the whole and related to history, science, composition, mathematics, and more.  Once we really look at all she did with this living subject, we are awed at its depth...at its beauty...at its relevance.  But in this post, I want to talk about what is referred to as the "conversation with a map".  When I present this in my immersion sessions, it is often the first time individuals have approached this aspect of Geography with Mason's living ideas and the way she went about it often surprises participants.

One thing that stands out to me is that even in map work, the maps are not studied in isolation and without literary connections.  The texts may be in the form of the  living books she used for geography (see AO's wonderful selections) or it may be connected to her own Geography Readers, which are available for free on google books.  (I tend to get there by visiting AO's Library and follow those links to each of the books.)

Mason quotes Dr. Watts in the Prefaces of her Readers stating, "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 books of geography."

I approach this like picture study, stirring their curiosity at what they will be looking at for this lesson, encouraging them to get ready to take in as much as they can. I pass out maps on the area to be studied.  I give them a few minutes to really look at the maps.  Then - and here's the different part - I ask them questions about what they are looking at.  Questions that are not their own. Questions like the ones Mason uses in her Geography Readers.  Here are just 3 of 28 questions she would have students answer upon looking at a map of Europe, usually before the text was read -

Questions on the Map of Europe

1.  What ocean washes the northern coasts of Europe? What sea breaks into the land? Name any islands in this ocean. Any capes upon it.
2. Name the five arms of the Atlantic that wash upon western Europe. What straights connect the North Sea with the English Channel, and with the Baltic Sea?
3. What islands are included in the "British Isles"? Name any other large European Islands in the Atlantic.

After we go over the questions, I read the lesson.  After the lesson, in which I read the text and they narrate, they would fill out a blank map from memory with what they have learned.

I am sharing how I have presented this in an immersion class.  At home, the students may write out the answers and eventually know them viva voce, (with living voice),  from memory.  We slowly expand the map from the beginning of the term until the end when they will then rather effortlessly know the physical geography, along with other aspects of geography, of a particular region. Presently, we are reading about South Africa, travelling along with H.V. Morton, and learning to fill out a blank map of the country.

If you want to know more about these map conversations and how rewarding they can be, I encourage you to read through the Prefaces to the Geographical Readers.  I have pared down her steps in this blog post in order to give  you an idea of how you might approach maps.

We ♥ maps,


(See Mason's Volume 3 p. 348 for an extensive Geography lesson on Scandinavia - Norway in Particular)

Living Geography Series!


  1. This was my very favourite part of your immersion session. Like all things Mason, it is so simple and yet so powerful. Thanks for describing it here!

  2. Love it Nancy! My newest favorite living geography book is "How The Heather Looks", by Joan Bodger. A delightful journey in England to discover where many children's books and illustrations came from. They are not just stories of the imagination- they took root in real places. It has the distinguished reputation "as the most stolen book by retiring librarians". Although the copy I am reading is an old one, it has been reprinted in a paperback so we can all own it honestly.

    1. Yes, that is a great book, Linda! I might just need to go visit some of the places she mentions...someday.

  3. How neat, Nancy! I love the how you "walk through" these things with us!! :)

  4. Viva Voce`` lovely two words.
    Love Geography too and maps.
    Thanks for this post1

  5. Nice post, Nancy! Which book of Morton's are you reading? He was a prolific travel writer!


    1. Dear Lori,
      In Search of South Africa is the title.
      From joy to joy,

  6. Hi Nancy,
    Thank you so much for this lovely post!
    I am a South African living in Cape Town, South Africa and would love to hear more of what you loved or didn't about our country. Diverse as we are, our country has many facets to it and apart from just geographical, the history of some of our most early inhabitants have their place on web site I can highly recommend called 'Footprints on our Land' the lady that wrote it - Wendy Young was my mentor for Charlotte Mason and her perspective is refreshing. You may enjoy downloading some of her lapbooks at [ http://www.south-african-homeschool-curriculum.com/free-printable-homeschool-worksheets.html and http://www.south-african-homeschool-curriculum.com/south-african-history.html ]
    I hope these can in some way enhance your immersion into South African Geography / History.
    Warm regards,

  7. Hi Nancy! I was in your multi-age homeschool immersion earlier this summer. I loved the geography portion and want to purchase a good atlas...or 2 or 3 (for Bible, American, and World)!! I think you had a few you recommended but I didn't write it down. Can you remind me of any atlases that you recommend? Thanks!

    1. Dear Sarah,
      So nice to hear from you! Yes, I recommended The Golden Bible Atlas (Terrien) and the Reader's Digest Atlas of the Bible for Bible atlases. We have many DK atlases for up-to-date world and American maps.