Research in inner-city Buffalo is interacting with children by studying how they experience their neighborhoods through geography. I have long though we should be teaching them to understand geography on the local level first.
They seem to get the States and Nations thing OK, but it doesn't really fall in their mental context well. However, kids perceive their local environment much better. I have often tried to explain the relationships to my son about where New Mexico is in relation or Oregon and, because of air travel, doesn't grasp that as much as he does a trip to the store. He is 8 and just getting used to the larger picture. This study done in Buffalo watched how kids in the inner city saw the area they lived in differently by the maps they made and the pictures they took:
At the same time, the UB researchers who supervise the project are discovering how children in inner cities view their physical surroundings, what makes them feel good or bad about urban places and how the children themselves impact their communities. They also are exploring how those perceptions could contribute to a more meaningful geography curriculum at the elementary school level.Also...
The diverse projects are helping Cope and her students learn more about the microgeographies—the small-scale social/spatial interactions of everyday life—of children's urban experiences, uses of different spaces and perceptions of neighborhoods.My feeling is that we should concentrate on the local more when the kids are young and then proceed to the regional and national in more detail later. Geography is much more than maps and knowing where the states and countries are. But knowing how to read maps and understand spatial relationships is much more important. Knowing the capital of New Hampshire when you are 10 isn't as important as knowing the location of the capital of your own state (unless you live in New Hampshire), what neighborhood you live in and the geography of the areas that affect your life, along with some spatial theory on why the geography matters. Memorizing capitals is just a lesson in memorization, not in geography.
(Note: I don't say that because I didn't like memorizing capital names. I was really good at it. But I don't think it is that important. It's more important to learn how to read a map and know how to find the capitals on it)