Cultural Diversions with North Star Geography Sidebars

We have been using North Star Geography for a few months now and I am continually impressed with all that it encompasses as well as how flexible the program is for our homeschool lifestyle.

Cultural Diversions with North Star Geography Sidebars @EvaVarga.net

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Cultural Diversions with North Star Geography Sidebars

Embedded within each of the sixteen high-level geographic lessons are green sidebars that bring attention to real-world examples of the concepts and topics addressed throughout the curriculum. In the introduction author Tyler Hogan writes,

“The hardest part of writing this curriculum was deciding what NOT to include. So many interesting places, facts, and stories are with discovering ….”

I love this! These sidebars not only provide clear examples of geographic concepts but introduce students to places of cultural importance around the world.

As we travel internationally each year, the sidebars embedded within each lesson are of particular interest to us and we have often jumped around in the text seeking them out as they relate to our travels. We use the sidebars as points of comparison and as the carrots of our rabbit trails for student-led learning.

The Tube Map

In the first unit, Geography Skills, one of the sidebars focuses on subway maps. I love that the author describes how the London subway came to be called the Tube and how maps of the underground transportation system evolved to more user-friendly.

My children first experienced a subway when we were in Sweden. Though my husband and I had experience on the New York subway – navigating one in a foreign language added to the difficulty and we had a few moments of stress. stockholmtubemap

Fortunately, the people were very helpful and we made our way from our hotel, to the T-Centralen station where we transferred to a trolley before reaching our final stop on the island of Djurgården, though one stop farther than necessary so we backed tracked on foot.

We further practiced our skills at reading a tube map in China as we utilized the subway to get around the major metropolitan areas of Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Having experience reading a tube map was particularly useful as fewer people spoke English.

The Three Gorges Dam

One sidebar that was of particular interest from the Physical Geography unit was that of the Three Gorges Dam in the Hubei province of China. While we hadn’t visited this area when we were traveling, we enjoyed comparing the construction of this dam to that of Shasta Dam, which we toured a year ago.

The sidebar briefly mentions the ecological results of constructing the dam and from this a discussion ensued. The kids were able to recall watching an Oregon Field Guide episode on breaching the Condit Dam.

The Chinese One-Party System

An understanding of the culture and politics of China is of growing importance and as students of Mandarin Chinese, we found the sidebar describing the Chinese One-Party System from the Human Geography unit of interest.

Utilizing this sidebar as a starting point, we then used the graphic organizers in the Companion Guide to direct us in researching our own state and national government.

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Linked up with The Massive Homeschool Geography Guide at iHomeschool Network.

Scandinavia Day Six: Gamle Stan

We awoke at a leisurely pace this morning.  We had reservations on the afternoon train to Oslo, so our morning was relatively open.  We discussed our options over frøkost and all agreed we wanted to return to Gamla stan (The Old Town) to explore the ancient part of the city more thoroughly.  This time, however, we opted to use city transportation rather than to walk.

A street performer who caught our attention as the kids recently learned to play a simple song in this same way.  They each put a few kroner in his case to show their appreciation of his musical skills.  


Until 1980, this old part of Stockholm was officially Staden mellan broarna (The Town between the Bridges). Gamla stan consists primarily of the island Stadsholmen.  The town dates back to the 13th century, and consists of medieval alleyways, cobbled streets, and archaic architecture. As I mentioned previously, North German architecture has had a strong influence in the Old Town’s construction and iconic buildings surround the square Stortorget
A medieval waste pipe, called a trumba.
 Mårten Trotzigs Gränd, less than a metre wide, is the narrowest alley in the city.

After a delightful lunch at a quaint little Italian restaurant, we made our way back to the hotel to get our things and proceed on by taxi to the train station.  We boarded promptly and enjoyed the scenic tour through the Swedish countryside en route to Norway.  We arrived late in the evening so immediately found a taxi and proceeded to our hotel, checking in shortly before midnight.  While this would normally feel a little unnerving so late, the northern latitude afforded us plenty of light and discounting how we felt phyically (it had been a long day, after all) it felt like it was only 7 or 8 in the evening.  

Scandinavia Day Five: The Vasa and Skansen

We again enjoyed a delightful buffet for frøkost.  Upon asking for assistance of the receptionist, we proceeded to 7-11 (which are as common as Starbucks) where we purchased tickets for public transportation.  Though we were versed on the New York subway – navigating one in a foreign language added to the difficulty and we had a few moments of stress.

Fortunately, the people were very helpful and everyone speaks English.  With the help of a policeman, we made our way out of T-Centralen subway station to a local tram or trolley.  We made it in short time to our destination – Djurgården, though one stop farther than necessary so we backed tracked on foot.

We spent the morning at the Vasa Museum, a glamorous but unseaworthy warship – top-heavy with an extra cannon deck, she sank 20 minutes into her maiden voyage when a breeze caught her sails and blew her over.  After over 300 years at the bottom of Stockholm’s harbor, she rose again from the deep with the help of marine archaeologists.

We were all impressed with the Vasa – particularly in the 500 wooden statues draping the ship and once painted in bright colors.  We wandered through the various exhibits, took a guided tour in English, watched a video (focused on efforts to raise her) and thereafter the kids took part in a couple of crafts fro Barne – painting with a feather and ink (Buddy) and metal stamping (MeiLi).

After the Vasa, we walked back to where we’d originally gotten off the tram for lunch.  We selected a charming, open-air café where we enjoyed a salad and sandwiches.  Just as we were finishing, MeiLi realized that she had forgotten her purse at the Vasa … a habit that is quickly becoming an undesirable holiday tradition (she’s done it twice before).

Upon recovering MeiLi’s purse, we walked across the street to Skansen. Founded in 1891, it is Europe’s original open-air, living history museum.  The park encompasses more than 150 historic buildings (homes, churches, shops and schoolhouses) transplanted from all corners of Sweden.  Another part of the park is a zoo – with an emphasis on Scandinavian animals.

While observing the bears, we almost lost Buddy – giving us quite the scare!  He’d gone one way and us the other … we didn’t realize it until we’d walked some distance.  As he’d been walking in the opposite direction, it took us a good 5-10 minutes to find him.  He was in tears, of course, and as a result made a more concerned effort to hold my hand when it was busy and crowded.

My favorite part of Skansen was the living history.  Unfortunately, as it is still early in the season, many of the buildings were not open and there were few interpreters dressed in period attire.  I was most intrigued, however, by the Oktorp farmhouse.  I’d hoped to interact some with the interpreter (one of only two I saw today) but Buddy twice touched the artifacts and I thereby no longer felt comfortable.

The Sami camp was also fascinating. When we first arrived, there was a crowd of people surrounding the tent or tepee.  No one was really talking but several were laughing uncomfortably after they had peaked inside.  They would then jab one another and encourage their family member or friend to go in as well.  Finally they departed and it was our turn.  When I peaked in, I discovered the reason for their discomfort.  There was an interpreter dressed in Sami clothing inside the tent with a nice warm fire.

We were invited into the house and unlike the previous crowd, took him up on his kind offer.  We sat upon reindeer hides atop thin sticks that had been piled upon the ground for bedding.  It was surprisingly comfortable.  I very much enjoyed our brief visit.  As nomadic people, the Sami followed the reindeer herds.  They’d build multiple tent like structures throughout the reindeer’s range and live in them temporarily.  He informed us that it takes about 1-2 weeks to build one but that it will last for many years.  Today, Sami people live in modern housing and use the tent only on occasion when tagging reindeer.

I asked DH to take a photo of us – meaning I wanted him to take a picture of the kids and I inside the tent with the ‘Sami man’ as we came to refer to him.  DH took a few pictures and I assumed that all was well.  It wasn’t until I returned home that I realized the Sami man was not in the photos, with the exception of his lower legs.  I was very bummed.  As a former interpreter … I loved the dialogue we had exchanged.  Unfortunately, my memory will have to suffice.

Scandinavia Day Four: Copenhagen to Stockholm by Train

On our way down for breakfast at 6:30, we asked the receptionist for assistance deciphering our train tickets and reservations.  He indicated we should be there at 7 despite a departure time of 8:37.  We thereby returned quickly to our room for our luggage and had to forgo the breakfast buffet by which we had become so entranced.  We hurried to the train station and upon activating our Euro-Rail passes learned we were in fact quite early .. we learned our lesson and vowed not to make the same mistake again.   As an added penalty, we were forced to eat breakfast at McDonalds … and not surprisingly, they did not have a breakfast menu.  We thereby ate 1957 Burgers.  Hmmm

We made it to the correct platform (Spår) with the kind assistance of a DSB employee, Nicolai.  We were very thankful for his guidance as just minutes before we were to depart, they changed the platform … I’m not sure we would have been aware.  He was very friendly and even allowed the kids to wear his cap, though he wouldn’t allow me to take his photograph.  Sorry ladies …  

The train ride through the Swedish countryside was delightful – enabling us to take in so much. We arrived in Stockholm in the early afternoon and we promptly took a taxi to our hotel – Courtyard Marriott @ Fridhelmsplan.  Soon after we were settled in our room – a little smaller than our room in Copenhagen but meticulously clean, in fact it was a new hotel – we walked quite a distance along the water (Riddarfjärden) to Gamle Stan, Stockholm’s old town.

This historic island is charming, photogenic and full of antique shops and cafes.  Until the 1600s, all of Stockholm fit on Gamle Stan.  In time, German culture influenced art, architecture and even the language, turning Old Norse into modern Swedish.

We walked through the quaint narrow streets, made a few small purchases and coincidentally stumbled upon something taking place at the Royal Palace that may have been the changing of the guard, though the tourist literature indicated that this was to take place at an earlier time of the day, so we are not certain.

We opted to eat dinner here as well and selected Trotzig – a very nice, fine dining atmosphere.  Finally!  A meal worth the kroner!!