Google Earth activities for kids?
June 28, 2020 9:56 PM   Subscribe

My 5-year-old has recently discovered Google Earth. How can I turn this into something at least somewhat educational?

It’s much better he spend his time on GE than with mindless games, so it’s not a bad thing for him to do per se. But just mindlessly clicking on different Street Views isn’t really tecaching him anything, and it feels like this could be turned into something with more value.

Are there any sites that try to teach kids things to do with Google Earth? He’s barely started reading so it would need to be very basic; I’ve seen some sites with GE activities but aimed more at teens and young adults, but I need to go younger. Any ideas?
posted by zardoz to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
5 years old may be a little too old for reading ABCs from space, but even as an adult I found it cool. If you know a little about landforms you could even explain to him how they were formed. The link also has other educational exploration activities of varying depth and complexity. I think 5-year-olds may also enjoy the one comparing Earth and other planets.
posted by satoshi at 11:15 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]

He’s probably a little young for independent GeoGuessr play, but it might be a cool thing to do together. Certainly helps develop critical thinking skills as well as attention to detail.

Does he have any favorite books set in interesting locations? “Traveling” to those places could be fun. Or exploring places connected with family history, as mundane as “this is where I went to elementary school” to “this is where Grandma lives before she came to America.”
posted by charmcityblues at 11:46 PM on June 28

I would question if it's not teaching him anything. A lot of the way "play" teaches us is by letting us explore and try to answer our own questions. But if you want to really know what he's learning, maybe have him look at places you know, and then compare them? Ask what he thinks about the view outside your home, or grandma's house.
posted by Lady Li at 11:54 PM on June 28 [9 favorites]

You could introduce some basic map reading skills at that age, north south east West, identifying structures such as schools or post offices, or geographic features like rivers. Describing how to get to one place to another in your neighborhood simply. You can introduce different cultures, geographic boundaries (counties, states/Provences, countries, oceans!) Noticing different types of roads (paved, unpaved, state routes, interstates etc). Noticing urban set up vs rural set ups. There's just so so much to see! You can make it practical by having him map out basic routes you'll take him on then have him try to tell you how to get there. (It's useful to print it in this case instead of staying on the screen).
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:41 AM on June 29

I think it's pretty educational and impressive that your 5-year old is exploring Google Earth, even in a freestyle manner! Here are some skills I think he is gaining without any intervention on your part:

- Orientation: Street view lands you on a street but you have to click those little arrows to go left, right, forward, backward. And when you click on one it does this quick little zooming transition with a blur effect, which is not like real life. He has to connect the idea that he's "moved" down a few yards from where he was before and not just somewhere new completely.
- Urban planning: Clicking around a neighbourhood he might see a transition from houses to commercial to rural land. And these don't happen abruptly. He'll be passively taking in how the change happens between these spaces - the buildings, the vehicles, the natural surroundings.
- Using online tools in general: When I think abut the sophisticated nature of online tools available to kids these days compared to what I had and how quickly they adapt and learn how to use it, it blows my mind. His ability to navigate around the Google Earth system (the functions, the buttons, the features) will add to his online literacy to be able to use other online tools.

So don't put too much pressure on yourself to squeeze "education" out of every moment! He's doing it on his own just fine. I am personally a big proponent of free play and lament that kids don't get to partake in it that much these days.

That said, to answer your actual question, if you really want to get involved maybe use this moment to have conversations and connect with him.

- Does he realise these are real places that he is viewing? Like a previous commentator suggested, showing him places he is familiar with in real life might drive that point home. He will eventually connect that he might see places he wants to visit himself or learn more about.
- Talk about what he sees. What is catching his eye? Can he imagine what kind of activities happen here beyond a static picture?
- Go visit some foreign streets together. Look at signs in different languages. Observe different modes of transportation and the people who use them. Talk about what is the same and different from what he is used to seeing in his own world outside the home.
- Install a screenshot plug in tool into your browser and teach him to take a screenshot with a click. He can 'collect' his favourite views and show them to you and talk to you about why he liked what he found. (After just two random clicks I found this cool little view, I imagine he could be seeing some pretty neat stuff on his journeys) Or set up a scavenger hunt for him to find specific objects.
posted by like_neon at 2:04 AM on June 29 [6 favorites]

Buy a globe, get a good one if you can afford it, and help him find the places he's looking at on the screen. ( The cheapest one I've found is an inflatable ball, not very accurate but doubles as a toy.) Also an atlas. A lot of young people today have become so dependent on their apps to get places they don't know how to read maps. You can also show him various types of maps including topographical.

When I was just a couple of years older than he is my homework one day was drawing a map of the route from home to school and illustrating it. I still remember that assignment 60+ years later.

Reading the words is reading. Explaining scale is math. Learning about other countries and cultures is social studies. You could build a whole elementary school curriculum around google earth.
posted by mareli at 6:36 AM on June 29 [3 favorites]

He's a little young for most of the and geography quizzes, but maybe you can find a few of the easier ones that he can puzzle out with the help of Google Earth.

(I would have loved Google Earth at his age!)
posted by zadcat at 7:23 AM on June 29

He may enjoy looking for prehistoric land features like Skara Brae or Stone Henge; I understand that some of the unexcavated features can be viewed on Google Earth.

Also, castles and forts like Gravenstein or Palma Nova.

Don't forget the ocean. He can look for tectonic plate boundaries and area where there is new crust forming in ocean ridges, then read about MBARI heading to the trench to discover underwater marvels.
posted by effluvia at 10:02 AM on June 29

See if you can find local radio stations online when you 'visit' places. With google cardboard you can do street view in vr, and the build-it-yourself models run about 8 bucks.
posted by sexyrobot at 6:57 PM on June 29

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