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Geo Whiz

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a student possessed of an American education is in want of any knowledge of geography. Americans, as study after study informs us, are embarrassingly awful at geography. Can’t find Iraq on a map embarrassing. Thinks New Mexico is part of Mexico embarrassing.

Matt and I feel confident we can fix that. All every house and school in the United States has to do is purchase a series of games. They are: Ten Days in Europe, Ten Days in Asia, Ten Days in Africa, and Ten Days in the Americas. All are available at a reasonable price from Out of the Box Publishing. These are all games where the goal is to connect 10 countries in a row. They may touch, or you can get from one to the other via a color coded plane (the plane and the countries it connects must all be the same color), an ocean (both countries much touch the same ocean),  a train (Asia), or a safari vehicle (Africa). In each turn, players may draw from a stack of cards, draw from a discard stack, or swap two cards in their rack. The first person to string together all 10 slots wins.

We started in Europe. Then my mom got him the Asia game. When he wanted to take it home, she bought the Africa version to keep at her house. They are without a doubt his favorite games, and he’s learned a mind-blowing amount from them. Just yesterday in the car, we had this conversation.

“Wow, Mama, Asia sure has a lot of big countries in it. Like India and China with 1.1 billion and 1.3 billion people in them.”

“You’re right. Asia is the biggest continent and has the most people in it.”

“But some countries in Asia don’t crack a million. Like Bhutan. Or Cyprus. Hmm  . . .  I wonder if any other countries in Asia don’t have a million people in them?”

“Maybe East Timor?” [It’s tiny and new–that was a good guess, right?]

“No, East Timor has like 1 to 2 million I think.” [Yup, just over 1 million. How the heck did he know that?]

And so it goes. Then on the way home from school today he began free associating about his upcoming (7th!) birthday.

“I sure hope I like what I get for my birthday.”

“I told everyone you wanted Barbie Legos, isn’t that right?”

“Nooooooooooo. I really want golf clubs. And a clear sheet of paper that you draw a map of Asia on. Then I can write in all the countries and their cities. And some of their populations. I’ll write everything. Oh yeah, I would love that!”

I knew he would. I was not sure if he could. Then curiosity got the better of me. I found a blank map of Asia online, printed it out, and handed it to Simon. That’s when this happened:

Some of the countries were too small to fit writing into. So I numbered them and waited to see how much he could do. That’s when this happened:

I helped him when he wanted it on his spelling. There’s no way at almost seven he could spell “Kyrgyzstan” without help. I did not help where he didn’t want it, thus “Omon” and “Gorjia”.  But I never once told him what country fit into a space or even offered a clue. He just knew! It’s not such a big deal to know India, China, or Japan. But sorting out Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia is a bigger deal. Getting upset because Bahrain isn’t on the map is a bigger deal still. And not mixing up any of the “stans” as I like to call them is better than I can do and I’m good at geography!

So listen up American educators. Get these games, play them in class, and reverse the American geography curse. Next up, with Simon’s help, I’m going to finally sort out all those tiny West African nations and figure out once and for all which is Guinea, which is Guinea Bissau, and which is Equatorial Guinea. I can do this! And if I can’t, well, at least my first-grader can.

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