The Kolbe Reviews: Geography

For Geography, Kolbe uses the Map Skills series from Continental Press.  It’s rare that a teacher with a passion for a topic is wholeheartedly enthused about a particular textbook, but I am in love.  Love.  LOVE.

This is the best thing going.  It’s an 8×11 glossy full-color paperback.  The fourth grade book has about 42 lessons, the sixth grade book has sixty. So throughout the course of the year, students do one or two lessons per week, depending on how you divide it out.  Each page is its own self-contained lesson.  The student reads the explanation and then answers the questions using the map on the page.

What I love:

Self-contained and self-teaching.  Once or twice there has been an assignment that required using a separate map (ie, “a map of your state”), and we’ve pulled out the globe as well.  My sixth grader considers this to be the fun page — like doing one of those puzzle games on the children’s menu at the family restaurant.  My fourth grader can read the lesson and do the work by herself 90% of the time.

Real maps from around the world.  There’s never an assignment using a fictional map to illustrate a point.  The Kolbe course plans periodically call for map-memorization (state capitals, etc.), but just doing the work in the book is an education in world geography all on its own.

Spiral curriculum.  You can start the series on grade-level, even if your student has never done geography before.  The fourth and sixth grade books cover all the same essential concepts — the difference is that the sixth grade lessons delve into each topic with a little more detail and little more difficulty. I believe Kolbe stops using the books after 6th grade, though there is a final book for grades 7 or 8.  If your older student has never studied geography and needs to be brought up to speed, just pick up the last book and it’s all there.

To study geography, or not?

Kolbe advises parents to skip geography if the overall course load is too overwhelming.  I partially disagree:

  • I think it’s fine to do geography some years but not all, or to spread one book over two years.
  • But geography matters, and is a skill of its own separate from the subjects it supports.  History and earth science make no sense if you don’t also know geography.  And trip planning?  Let’s just say it’s no fun traveling with people who can’t or won’t read maps.
  • In my experience, struggling students are sometimes helped by easing off the overwhelming subject, and exercising the brain elsewhere.  The geography in this series requires math, reading comprehension, writing, and visual processing skills.

So in our family, my inclination is to reduce the number of assignments from the National Catholic Reader (but still do some of the better selections) and hold onto geography, at least most years.

The Kolbe Course Plans

The course plans call for students to do two assignments per week.  There are no quarterly exams.  Other than a few “memorize this” or “practice that” assignments, the plans simply divide the book so students know how many pages to do each week.  So if you are not enrolling with Kolbe, I’d skip these plans and write your own chart of how many pages to do.  Or just open the book and circle pages.

Write in the book, or not?

This is not a reproducible, so photocopying assignments violates the copyright.  There are some assignments that require students to label the map in the book. We chose to have the kids write their answers on separate paper (works 85% of the time), if there was a map to label, we’d just do that assignment orally, and the student could point to the answer on the page.  The glossy pages are fairly durable, so the book should hand down as well as any other text.  Given the option of buying the book themselves or writing on a separate sheet of paper, both kids decided to save their cash for better purposes.

What else do you want to know?  I’ve got the fourth and sixth grade books on hand, and the course plans, so ask away.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *