Teaching Geography With Google Maps

Google Maps
Travelers aren’t born, they’re raised.

Last week we talked about how to connect with your kids while you’re away traveling. There are plenty of ways to get them interested in this great big world of ours while you’re both at home too. One of the best and easiest ways to fire their imagination is with Google Maps.

Like many good ideas in our family, my seven-year-old son thought of it first. He’s recently gotten into Internet Radio, especially Tonik Radio out of Dublin. Tonik and most other stations show a Google map with pointers to where their listeners are. I find it kind of freaky that our house is clearly indicated on a map for all the other listeners to see. The kid just thinks it’s cool. He’s of a generation that has always known the Information Age and thus has a whole different attitude towards privacy.

So as he listens to House and Trance he surfs the globe, looking up where the other Tonik Radio listeners are–the cluster of fans in Dublin, the farmer in Israel, and the guy in the apartment block in Sterlitimak, Russia. Zooming in with the power of satellite photography, he can see what far-off countries look like from above. In some places he can even use Google Street View.

Once he gets bored hunting down his fellow radio fans, he starts exploring the Terra Incognita of the spaces between the points. This week he conducted a close-up survey across the Pacific and happened upon the Johnston Atoll, a lonely little former U.S. military base that I had never heard of.

I also show him places where I’ve been. He got an aerial view of the amusement park in Baghdad where I ate mazgouf. When the satellite took its photo, a small plane was flying over the riverside park and left its shadow on the water of the Tigris. A week later I came into my office and he’d found it again. He’s learning to navigate.

I can even show him my past, hovering with him above the Danish farm where I was an exchange student back in my teens. I brought him up the country lane to the nearest highway and its bus stop, the same route I rode with my bike when I wanted to go to Slagelse, the nearest town. The hedge and ditch where I hid my bike before I caught the bus are still there.

Strangely, this obsession with the computer hasn’t killed his interest in regular maps or his light-up globe. So if you have a young kid who’s curious about the world, try surfing Google Maps. It’s more than a bit Orwellian, but it’s a lot of fun.

Image courtesy Google Maps, copyright 2011.

My kid is more up-to-date on geography than Google Maps

Google Maps, South Sudan“Where’s South Sudan?” my five-year-old asked me.

Being my kid, he’s big into maps. He has a map of Africa with all the flags on it hanging above his bed. Using it, he’s been able to trace dad’s adventures in Ethiopia and Somaliland. It’s been marked up a bit since I got it for him more than a year ago. I had to draw the boundary of the unrecognized state of Somaliland on it, and we had to add a flag after Libya suddenly got a second one.

He’s been hearing me talk about wanting to visit South Sudan, the world’s newest country after splitting from Sudan in July. In order to draw the new border, we looked it up on Google Maps. It wasn’t there. Google, which analyzes everyone’s search terms and takes photos of where everybody lives, hadn’t yet decided South Sudan was worthy of notice. We had to go to this map on Wikipedia to find out the information.

After an online campaign, Google Maps has finally changed their map to reflect reality, the BBC reports. Yahoo!, Microsoft and National Geographic have yet to follow suit.

I guess this a good lesson to my son that no source of information is 100% reliable, especially if that source is on the Internet.