Conceptual confusion

I noticed a bit of conceptual confusion with my son.  When I ask him what country we live in, he sometimes says Michigan.  Other times, I ask him what state we live in, he'll say North America or Ypsilanti.  Its apparent, he is not understanding he differences between the concepts of state, country, and city.  These ideas are simply too abstract for him to understand.  The word state to him has exact meaning.  He knows it represents some category of geography, but does not recognize the hierarchy of concepts and its placement there-in.

While the concepts of city, state, and country are difficult to understand, he can identify the shape and placement of Michigan on a map of the U.S.  We have a puzzle map of the U.S. that he and his sister love to do.  They are both excellent at doing the puzzle through shape recognition.  They can recite the names of about 6 different states.

This brings up an interesting problem with educating children about geography.  It seems at a young age (my son is 5), they can learn about the names of places where they live, but their conception of such places is so vague as to be next to meaningless.  I have tried to use Google maps and slowly zoom out from our house in order to give him perspective of the size and location.  Yet, after I zoom out further than our route to school, I can't really detect if it means anything to him.  Having children learn the names of the 50 states, country names, continent names, etc. is largely pointless at this age because these names have no meaning to him.  Where I should start?   I would think that names of neighborhood streets and nearby parks would be appropriate.  Maybe even nearby city names.  Any suggestions?


  1. > "Any suggestions?"

    Does your son have a reason to form each concept and to distinguish them? If not, perhaps waiting for cognitive necessity -- the engine behind conceptualization -- would work. At some point in his development, he will need the concepts and the relationship between them.

  2. Thanks Burgess. I'm not trying to push him in that regard, but cognitive necessity can be sparked by external sources. I'm just wondering when I can identify the proper time to guide his learning in a meaningful way.