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Great Circles of the Earth Geography Games for Kids

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The following is a guest post from Pam Barnhill of edsnapshots.com.

I have nightmares. Nightmares where I am watching a late night television show and a smug host approaches one of my grown children armed with a microphone and map.

“Can you show me where to find Ontario on this map?” asks the host.

The crowd roars with laughter as grown child scratches his head, looks confused, and then points somewhere in the vicinity of California. Stops my heart every single time.

Develop geographical literacy in your kids with these fun and active games.

Needless to say, geographical literacy is a big concern of mine, and therefore geography is something we study every year at our house.

It’s a huge topic that can often feel overwhelming, but small bits of information repeated over and over equals a large amount of knowledge after years of practice. In other words, we eat the geographical elephant one small bite at a time.

Our general geographical literacy begins with an exploration of basic map terms like the Great Circles of the Earth. We learned these through memorization. Far from being bored by memorization, my kids love to tuck away bits of knowledge. Two of their favorite ways to do this is through cheers and games. To help them learn the great circles of the globe we developed one of each.

Great Circles Cheer

The great circles of the earth are the latitude lines that circle the globe including the Antarctic Circle, the Tropic of Capricorn, Equator, Tropic of Cancer, Arctic Circle and the the longitude line known as the Prime Meridian. Before we can begin drawing world maps out on paper, it is helpful for the kids to have these circles and their order memorized.

Grab a globe and show the kids each of the circles, naming them and tracing them with your finger. It’s fun to chat about which circle you live closest to and what kinds of climates fall near each.

Next you can teach the kids to memorize the circles by having them learn this simple cheer:


Great circles from the bottom to the top. (Make large circles with both arms.)

Bottom to the top.

Bottom to the top.

Great circles from the bottom to the top.

Hop. Hop. Hop. (Do the hops. It’s fun!)

Antarctic Circle (Finger ants crawl up opposite arm.)

Tropic of Capricorn (Make unicorn horn on head with hand.)

Equator (Form equals sign with parallel arms.)

Tropic of Cancer (Make crab pincher hands. You may need to explain at first that cancer is the crab constellation, but the kids will quickly learn to associate the two.)

Arctic Circle (Make boat — ark, get it?— with hands.)

And don’t forget

The Prime Meridian (Make a 1 with your finger and take a big step to the side to show this line runs in the opposite direction of all the other lines.)

Great Circles Game

Once you have the cheer down, you can move on to playing the game to reinforce the circles and give the kids a chance to apply their knowledge. Start by downloading the Great Circle labels, printing, and laminating them if desired. The pictures on the cards will help non-readers be able to play.


Next you need to create the circle lines either on a table or the floor or even outside in a driveway. Some ideas would be to use string, painter’s tape, or sidewalk chalk to draw the lines — as large as your space will allow so they can really move around.

I try to create the lines close to scale, with the tropic lines closer to the equator and the arctic lines much farther apart. Check your globe for reference. I want the kids to get a good sense of where these lines are on the globe.


Next, time your students as they race to place the correct label on each line. They can work cooperatively trying to best their previous times or you can schedule a competition between students. After a few times playing they will surprise themselves with how quickly they can label the lines.


Bonus Activity: As soon as my kids figured out what the tape was on our floor, they started singing the cheer and hopping the lines as they sang!

It’s a great big world out there. How do you study it in your home?

>>Download Great Circles labels


Pam is the author of Plan Your Year: Homeschool Planning for Purpose and Peace. She lives in the deep south with her husband and three kids, and helps homeschool moms live their best life with great resources and practical inspiration at edsnapshots.com.

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This article was written by a Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers guest author. See the author's full bio in the body of the post.

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  1. LOL, Pam, don’t fret! Your kids would be right to point to southern California if they are looking for Ontario! I know, it’s the town next door to mine (actually, in soCal all the towns run together!) and a major airport hub and small industry town. Just had to kid you, a little. Thanks for all the geography info!

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