The first thing that I did was to teach him how maps relate to the real world. To do this I took three cups and a small toy. I laid the cups out in front of Harry and placed the toy underneath one of them. Then I drew three circles on a piece of paper to represent the cups, and drew an X where the toy was. To my surprise Harry picked this up very quickly and was able to find the toy when I hid it while his back was turned.
I expanded upon this idea by making a very simple map of the living room. I drew the key features (sofa, television, mantle piece, window etc.) and explained to him what they were. Then he left the room and I hid the toy. When he returned I showed him on the map where the toy was and he went to find it. He did pretty well with this, he couldn't manage it when the map was rotated but I think that he had at least some understanding that the picture on the paper related to the objects in the room around him.
Then we went to the computer and loaded up Google Maps. I found our house, and then I zoomed out to show him our street, village, country and so on right out to a map of the world. Then I zoomed back in again. He was absolutely fascinated by this. I found the places that we walk to locally, the playground, the village shops, baby group and so on, and he loved it. I left him to explore by himself clicking around with the mouse and he was entertained for ages.
We also looked at an actual physical atlas, to familarise him with the shapes of the different countries and continents. We have a world map in our study and one over his bed in his bedroom, and we often talk about the different countries. I've pointed out ones with distinctive shapes like Australia, and ones with special meaning to us, like the United Kingdom and India, where one set of grandparents are from.
We've also done a couple of crafts around the theme of geography. Together we put together a Me on the Map book, which is a really good way to introduce the concept of geography to small children.
We also made lots of flags from different countries in Europe to celebrate the Euro 2012 football tournament and the Olympics. This also helped to re-inforce the idea of the world being made up of lots of different countries. There are lots of activities that you can do when you have a selection of flags, for example sorting them according to the colours that they contain or the features that they have, like stripes or circles.
Do you have any more ideas for ways to introduce geography to young children? Please feel free to add suggestions or a link in the comments below!
Top image by John-Mark Kuznietsov via Unsplash