Tips for Teaching your Child about Geography

Tilly and the Tidal Wave

The 2004 Boxing Day tsunami was one of the most catastrophic natural disasters of the last century. Depending on which ‘official’ statistics you believe, the death toll was somewhere between 180,000 and 230,000 people.

Could it have been prevented? Probably not for the bulk of the fatalities in Indonesia. They were simply too close to the epicentre of the earthquake and it’s debatable whether any kind of warning system would have been able to warn people in time to make a difference. Having said that, this is the Pacific rim, the most geologically unstable place on earth. Tsunamis are not an unheard of occurrence. The retreat of the sea, the bubbling of the water, the disappearance of animal and bird life – these are fairly obvious warning signs that something is amiss.

These are exactly the warning signs that rang alarm bells for a 10 year old English school girl. Her actions saved her family’s lives and probably at least a hundred or so others.

Tilly Smith had studied tsunamis (or tidal waves for the older of those amongst us) in her primary school geography class a mere two weeks before her family headed off to Maikhao Beach in Phuket, Thailand. She’d completed a project on tsunamis and her teacher, Andrew Kearney, of Danes Hill Prep School in Oxshott, Surrey taught them about earthquakes and how the could create a tsunami. When she was on the beach with her family when the water receded and the horizon wobbled. Boats out at sea began to move violently and the first thing young Tilly thought about was her geography lesson.

In a nutshell, she went hysterical and screamed for everyone to get off the beach. Amidst the commotion, the message went out to at least 100 others on Maikhao Beach and the staff of their hotel, which was promptly evacuated, with everyone moving away from the beach and up to higher ground. A few minutes later, a sizeable wall of water hit the beach, accompanied by a ten metre tidal surge. Thanks to Tilly’s quick thinking, no-one on Maikhao Beach was killed or seriously injured.

So, what’s the point of this story? Nothing really, I thought it was a great story and just wanted to share it. If there is a message, there are probably a couple in there. Firstly, that children should not necessarily always be seen and not heard. Secondly, the practical value of education. One of the major criticisms of the education curriculum is the degree of relevance to life. I’d argue that Mathematics and English are highly relevant, but this is a pretty good argument too.

On a final note, I’ve been reminded that both the local public primary and high school that my children attend do not study geography. What a travesty! I remember with great fondness the Year 8 (or 2nd Form as it was then) Geography quizzes. The first chunk being a ‘spelling bee’ style contest to name capital cities (of other countries – American’s take note), followed by a quiz on other aspects of geography. I’ve fired off an e-mail to both schools and will be following it up at the next parent-teacher interviews.