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Geography by Heart: Great Circles and Blob Maps

lessons 004 Great Circles:  Arctic, Cancer, Equator, Capricorn and Antarctic.  Four paper-folds, a couple of freehand lines, and a bunch of blobs… and you’ve got the earth, according to Naomi!

I read about this in The Core by Leigh Bortins (which is otherwise a mostly-confusing book that provides too few details and too much “sell” for the author’s very expensive homeschooling program called Classical Conversations).

I like the emphasis on mapwork in Story of the World, but I think Bortins has a point:  kids use maps but generally don’t CREATE maps.  Having them draw the maps themselves helps them internalize their position and the places they are learning about far more deeply than if they’re just drawing lines or colouring in a map they’ve been handed.

I started with a basic map and some guidance borrowed from this lesson by another homeschooler.  She’s also using Draw, Write, Now, Volume 7, which has a lesson on drawing the world, but I don’t think it’s necessary.  I printed her map, shaded it with crayons, and then laminated it.

Today, I showed Naomi the circles on our globe first.  She already knew about the equator, and could guess at the Arctic and Antarctic ones.  I traced my finger around each circle on the globe, then showed how the map is like the globe, only flattened out.  Because it’s flat, the circles become straight LINES.  Not sure she got that 100%, but that’s okay.

She enjoyed the paper folding and line-drawing immensely. 

  • We started with a hot-dog fold, then a hamburger fold, to create the basic crease. 
  • Then, we drew the Tropics straight across, freehand. 
  • We folded the paper hot-dog style again, this time between from the top of the page to the “Cancer” line and from the bottom to the “Capricorn” line, to create the Arctic and Antarctic Circles. 
  • Finally, we drew straight lines in all the fold lines for emphasis. 
  • I labelled mine at this point, but I told her she didn’t have to write on hers at all today.

Since she’s very familiar with the continents already, I just pointed out their position and then we started drawing.  I did the continents in a fairly arbitrary order.

  • We drew a big blob for Africa, just above and to the right of the exact midpoint.
  • Next, just a bit above Africa, a little more to the right, there’s a small blob for Europe.  I tried to show that it was between the Arctic and Cancer, just overhanging the Prime Meridian (“middle line”) by a squeak.  Naomi’s turned out perfectly.
  • Third, we drew a blob for Asia – a HUGE oval blob, stretching from Europe to the edge of the page and all the way back to Africa again.  I tried to emphasize that it came down almost to the Equator.  Hers overlapped the equator:  no big deal for a first attempt.
  • Next came North America.  A large circle, going past the Arctic circle, and down almost to the Equator.
  • Then, South America.  Hers was too small, and then she fixed it but made it a bit big, but she got the idea.
  • Last came Australia, which was easy enough once I showed that it sits right ON the Capricorn line, like a necklace on a string.
  • I told her we were done, then turned around and saw her drawing an oval at the bottom – yup, I’d forgotten Antarctica!
  • Once all our blobs were in place, we coloured them with the same colours as in my laminated map.  (Almost the same as the colours used in the Draw Write Now version).  I was finished colouring first, so she had me colour in all the oceans, and then she got all wrapped up in the fact that they’re “really all one ocean.”

lessons 005It was a LONG lesson, and she was a bit restless by the end, but I think she was pretty pleased with how hers turned out (above). 

Mine is on the right, below.  Apart from the tidy labelling, it’s not really much better than hers, which must have been reassuring (to her, at least!). 

lessons 002lessons 003

I’d like to keep doing this, maybe every couple of weeks as our geography progresses.  Eventually, we’d move on to tracing and drawing continents, and even individual countries, from memory.

Here’s an article with more details on teaching the Great Circles and Blog Geography.


  1. Thanks for leading me your way from the WTM forum.

  2. The article link in the last paragraph of your post has been changed. The new location is:

    Thanks for the AWESOME tutorial! Starting tomorrow :-D


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