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Mapping the World by Heart Review by Diane Wheeler

Dave Smith
Tom Snyder Productions

I still remember the evening in 1985. I was working with a friend that was a first year teacher. He was grading papers for his social studies class, and I was studying for my college courses. His stack of correcting included a quiz that required students to fill in the country names on a blank map of North, Central and South America. I was a terrible student in high school so I am not easily shocked by the lack of achievement that students show. Well, at least two students filled in the map UPSIDE DOWN! Now, remember, this was not Asia, this was not Africa, this was not Europe. This was our own country and its neighbors, being filled in by high school sophomores.

Since then, I married that friend, and we have surrounded our children with maps and atlases. Our boys have maps of many different regions on the walls of their room, and we have a world map under the clear plastic on our dining table. But, we have never taken the next step and taught our children to make a map of their own. This year we are ready to do that, and, thanks to Dave Smith and Tom Snyder Productions, we are equipped.

Mapping the World by Heart is a program that Mr. Smith developed for his seventh grade classes in Massachusetts. He had similar experiences with students and felt a duty to send his students to eighth grade with a much greater understanding of world geography and their place in it. His approach is appealing to me as a home educator. Rather than viewing it as a perfect program that must be followed to the letter for success, he views it as a menu of lessons. "Choose what you want, use it as you wish, add to it, or combine it with other items, and make a "meal" that suits your own needs and your particular students." With that in mind, there are potential variations listed and examples of what others have done to make it their own.

Each student begins by filling in a blank grid with his or her current knowledge of world geography. This is a no-pressure exercise, designed to be a comparison to the map that the students will do when the course is complete. The samples of before and after work that are included are really impressive.

The next step is to learn some map basics including map projections, latitude and longitude, contour maps, and thematic maps.

Once those pieces are in place, the work of learning about the different continents and their features begins. Not only are lists given of items to locate in each region, but review activities are provided. There are many enrichment activities to choose from and resources for further study.

Mapping the World by Heart can be purchased through Tom Snyder Productions at 1-800-342-0236, or by visiting their website at

One thing to remember: this is designed to take a full school year, and could easily be extended for as long as is needed for your family. Mr. Smith makes a point of discussing how daunting the task can seem to students at the beginning of the year. The value, beyond the actual map education, is for students to see what they can know by heart if they persevere; they can be convinced that they know how to learn. That may start with geography, but it will translate into every area of life and learning. What a powerful lesson, and Mr. Smith teaches it well. So, don't be intimidated. Have some fun, learn a ton, and create a wall hanging worthy of framing, by Mapping the World by Heart this year!

-- Product Review by: Diane Wheeler, Senior Staff Writer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine