Geography can reward the inquisitiveness of young children, says Steve Mynard

Foundation Stage Curriculum

Knowledge and understanding of the world A sense of place: Observe, find out about, and identify features in the place they live and the natural world.

Find out about their environment, and talk about those features they like and dislike.

Exploration and investigation Look closely at similarities, differences, patterns and change.

Ask questions about why things happen and how things work.

Why do we teach geography?

When I ask teachers who attend the geography field trips and courses I run why we teach children geography there are two key reasons: to be aware of their place in the world; and to understand human influences on the world.

These reasons sum up the two halves of geographical knowledge and understanding – physical geography and human geography. Or to put it another way – the natural world and what people have changed about it to suit the way they want to live. We need to keep these two key elements in mind when introducing children to the world around them through geography.

The world is exciting and interesting. Children want to know why things are as they are and geography can reward this inquisitiveness.

Getting children fired up and interested in the environment is another reason often near the top of teachers’ lists. Increasingly we are aware of the negative impact people can have on the world. The children we are teaching now will grow up faced with issues such as global warming. Geography will help them understand the issues and find solutions.

Skills development

Concept of place
Our concept of our place in the world grows like the ripples made by a pebble dropped into a pond. At first the child knows their home and garden, then the local streets and shops and the way to play-group. As they grow older their recognition of their world grows to include the village or town, beyond their local estate and on to holiday destinations.

Concept of change
Places change with the seasons and over longer periods of time. Gardening projects help children to understand the former and watching the demolition of a local building or the steady growth of new houses show the latter. Make children aware of the changes that occur in the world around them with frequent visits to see these changes in progress.

Taking responsibility
From the earliest age children need to appreciate that as citizens of the world we have a responsibility towards it. Knowing that we turn off taps and light switches when we are not using them and putting paper in the recycling bin help to nurture this key life skill.

Encouraging an inquisitive outlook on life and prompting children to ask questions about why the world around them is as it is builds a good foundation for future geographical enquiry. Where does the fruit we eat at break time come from? How does it get here?

Observing and recording
Extend children’s vocabulary with opportunities to observe and record daily changes in their environment such as the weather or the budding of trees.

As you plan activities try to match them to a specific skill, and consider how it will allow that skill to be encouraged, nurtured and developed.

Former primary headteacher Steve Mynard runs Metaphor Learning, a company dedicated to promoting creativity and imaginative approaches to reintegrating the curriculum.

Some practical ideas for teaching geography to young children

Concept of place:

  • Road map mats with cars, people and buildings provide the way into viewpoints. This form of spatial awareness is an essential first stage in the progression of map-work skills.
  • Encourage children to create and play with a wide range of environments; train sets, farms and airports. Bring in sand and water play to widen the opportunities further.
  • Help children to see that the worlds they have created look different from above (bird’s-eye view) and from the side (ant’s-eye view). Get children to move back and forth between these views and describe what they can and cannot see in each view.
  • Giving and following directions
  • Taking teddy on a journey around the classroom or the outside play area, giving and following directions, helps children express themselves clearly, develop accuracy in what they are telling the other person as well as listening carefully.

Concept of change:

Make the observation and recording of the weather a daily feature of your work. There are many good resources available to do this or children can agree their own symbols to go on a weather chart and make them in their own way.

Growing things

Grow beans or cress – anything that grows quickly and where changes can be seen.

  • On the first day of each month, photograph a tree that can be seen from your setting and display the pictures.

Observing and recording:

  • If you have aerial photos of your local area children love looking at these and are delighted when they spot features they recognise. Children’s own paintings of the places can be linked with a thread to the photo image to make a display.
  • Take a digital camera out on any journey and record the features you come across – streams, bridges, telephone masts, clumps of trees, a post box, weeds breaking through the tarmac. All of these are geographical features.
  • Draw a large map of the area immediately around your setting and display the photos, and children’s own paintings or models in the appropriate location.
  • Make a model in the damp sand, with hills, valleys, etc, that can be named.


  • Taking your children out of the setting on a journey provides the opportunity for exploring geographical features. ‘We are walking uphill.’ ‘We are turning the corner.’ ‘We are crossing the road.’ ‘We can see a long way from this hilltop.’
  • Keep it local while they are young. There really is no need to go further than a few hundred metres from your setting to find a wealth of features that will interest children and encourage them to ask questions.
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