Parent Primer: Geography

Get a refresher on geography topics and terms.



Parent Primer: Geography

Since you were in school, the world has changed a lot — literally! The borders and names of many countries are not the same as they were when you were in school. If your child is memorizing names of countries and world capitals, the best way to help is to pull out the atlas and quiz him — or emcee a Geography Bee. To help with the rest of your child's geography learning, we've created this guide to jog your memory and review basic concepts and vocabulary.

What Is Geography?
Geography is the study of place and space on Earth. It's about looking at how humans influence the land they live on and how the places people live shape their existence. In general, geographers seek to answer three questions:

  1. Where are people and environments located?
  2. Why are they located there?
  3. Are there patterns to these locations? What significance do the patterns have?

Geography has three main branches:

  1. Physical describes and studies features of Earth, such as the oceans and rock formations, the planet's climates, and where plants and animals live.
  2. Human or cultural is focused on how humans and the land interact. This study includes country and state borders, city landscapes, road maps, and neighborhoods.
  3. Regional compares the differences and similarities between various areas.

Maps 101
A map is simply a picture that represents an area of any size — from your child's bedroom to the whole world. Most maps are drawn from a bird's-eye view, and are almost always drawn in some sort of scale (i.e., one inch on a road map = 10 real miles) so that all the information can fit on the page. Maps are often used to locate specific places or landmarks and find the ways and distances between two locations. So you can find an exact point, maps use a geographic grid: imaginary lines running north and south and east and west.

Location Terms:
There are many terms used to describe where places are located.

  • Absolute Location The position of any place on Earth as described by its latitude and longitude.
  • Hemisphere One half of the globe. The equator divides the earth into the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, while the Prime Meridian divides the earth into the Eastern and Western Hemispheres.
  • Latitude Imaginary lines that cross the surface of Earth parallel to the equator (east to west) and tell how far north or south of the equator a place is located.
  • Longitude Imaginary lines that cross the surface of Earth perpendicular to the equator (north to south) and tell how far east or west a place is from the Prime Meridian.
  • Prime Meridian An imaginary line running north to south through Greenwich, England, that's used as the reference point for longitude. It is also the reference point for time, which is measured relative to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
  • Region An area that includes a number of places that have something in common, either physical or cultural. For example, the "upstairs" in your house is a physical region where a number of rooms live. Chinatown in New York City (and in other U.S. cities) is a region defined by the culture of its inhabitants and businesses.
  • Relative Location A description of one place based on the location of another, i.e., "the building is north of the river," or "the school is three blocks downtown from the library."

Geographical Terms
There are a lot of words used to describe the features of land and water, and the way the two interact. Some of the more specific terms used are:  

  • Archipelago — A group of islands.
  • Atoll — An island made of a circular coral reef surrounding a lagoon. (Picture a coral doughnut with water in the hole.
  • Barrier Reef — A coral reef parallel to a shore and separated from it by a lagoon.
  • Cape — A strip of land that juts out into water.
  • Isthmus — A narrow band of land that connects two bigger land areas.
  • Lagoon — A small lake or pond connected to a larger body of water; an area of water separated from the sea by sand dunes or coral.
  • Pass — A low place in a mountain range that allows people to travel through.
  • Peninsula — Land that is nearly surrounded by water that extends from a larger land mass.
  • Promontory — A high point overlooking (or projecting over) a body of water or lowland.
  • Plateau — A flat area of land that is higher than nearby land. Also known as a tableland or mesa.
  • Reef — A range or ridge of rocks, coral, or sand in the water near the surface.
  • Shoal — A stretch of shallow water, or a sandbank or sandbar that makes water shallow.
  • Strait A narrow channel or passageway connecting two bodies of water.
Subject Refreshers
Cognitive Skills
Age 13
Age 12
Age 11
Landforms and Topography
Geography and Map Skills
Maps and Globes