3 Feb 2014

Mapping the world

Perhaps no knowledge is more delightful than such an intimacy with the earth's surface, region by region, as should enable the map of any region to unfold a panorama of delight, disclosing not only mountains, rivers, frontiers, the great features we know as 'Geography,' but associations, occupations, some parts of the past and much of the present, of every part of this beautiful earth. Great attention is paid to map work; that is, before reading a lesson children have found the places mentioned in that lesson on a map and know where they are, relatively to other places, to given parallels, meridians. Then, bearing in mind that children do not generalise but must learn by particulars, they read and picture to themselves the Yorkshire Dales, the Sussex Downs, the mysteries of a coal-mine; they see 'pigs' of iron flowing forth from the furnace, the slow accretions which have made up the chalk, the stirring life of the great towns and the occupations of the villages.Charlotte Mason Towards a Philosophy of Education pp 224-5 (Bolding mine.)
Something of a literary character is preserved in the Geography lessons. The new feature in these is the study of maps which should be very thorough. For the rest the single reading and narration as described in connection with other work is sufficient in this subject also. Children cannot tell what they have not seen with the mind's eye, which we know as imagination, and they cannot see what is not told in their books with some vividness and some grasp of the subject. The thoroughness of the map study is shewn by such a question to be answered from memory as,––"What part of Belgium does the Scheldt drain? Name any of its feeders. Name ten famous places in its basin. What port stands at the head of its estuary?"Charlotte Mason ibid pp 227

We know from old Parents' Union School Programmes that Miss Mason's students spent ten minutes a week in mapping exercises, but unless I'm mistaken, I don't believe we know much about how these exercises were actually done.

What we do know, is that Miss Mason's students spent a lot of time playing with maps. They found the places they were reading about in their lessons before they read, so they could picture the distances and terrain in their mind's eye as they read about them. If the Saxons begin attacking the coast off Sussex, the children knew where that was. This preparatory map work brings the story alive, and in our home we keep maps for this purpose for a significant number of our books, whether they are officially geography books or not.

Personally, I don't think this is what the Programmes mean by map exercises. I think this ten minutes of map work is probably what is described in the appendix of School Education on p338, where she describes a geography lesson on Norway in detail. In this lesson, Mason takes the mapping questions from her Geographical Readers, and demonstrates how they are used to highlight particular geographical features, bringing the names on the maps alive, and allowing the children to imagine what Norway's fiords looks like, and how they're used. I think that mapping as part of geography was quite a rigorous subject - oh, so simple, like so many of Mason's techniques, but with so much power.

My family probably has an advantage when it comes to geography in that we have travelled so extensively. I've seen the fiords of Norway. I can describe their grandeur and their majesty first hand to my daughter, but even I am not familiar with the major industries, the fierce storms, the largest cities and the beautiful buildings without extensive pre-reading, which I don't have time to do. Sadly, my daughter will have to settle for Mummy's best instead.

This Year in AO7, Jemimah has begun Map Drills of her own. They aren't up to Charlotte Mason's exacting standards, I'm afraid, but already I am impressed at how much Jemimah has memorised and learned. This term we are doing map drills on two regions - Roman Britain from our history readings, and the Northern Hemisphere from our geography book, The Brendan Voyage.

Like most subjects in our home the process is simple, and takes ten minutes once a week. First, I hand Jemimah a map of the region. In the photos, this is a map of Roman Britain printed from the pages of her history text, Winston Churchill's The Birth of Britain. I also give her a list of regions and towns to find - in this early lesson she was asked to label the modern countries of England, Scotland, France, Wales and Ireland as well as the civitates (tribal regions) and principal towns.

After identifying the list and writing them onto a blank map (I remove the names using Photoshop; white-out tape would work as well), she then studies the completed map for a few minutes, much the same way as she studies a picture for picture study. When she is ready, she turns the map over and completes a second blank map from memory. Since Jemimah's spelling is not that good, I allow her to keep the list of names for copying from. To me it is important that the names are spelt correctly.

That's it for the first lesson. In subsequent lessons we added in the names of the oceans and then later the sites of battles - this is a history map, not a geography map, after all.

In our geography map we will mark Brendan's voyage, only we're only up to Chapter 4 in that book, and the boat hasn't left the safety of its Irish harbour as yet. This voyage will lend itself far more to a world geography mapping exercise.

Charlotte Mason's method of education works best if you follow it closely. Each step is deceptively simple, and takes little time, but together they build a formidable educational method. Every time I begin something new, I am impressed anew at these words. Map work is no exception. I encourage you to give it a go.

Read more about map work CM style with my friends, Nancy and Amy.




  1. They look a lot like the Sonlight maps we used & which always impressed me. Not sure what you will be studying but once you know the gold route from Ireland through Britain the Romans & Bouddicca make far more sense. ☺ It always pays to follow the money trail!

  2. Thank you for sharing!! We've done a little map work and I keep wanting it to become more regular, thank you for the inspiration.


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