How My 3-Year-Old Learned the States and Capitals

Last fall, my children were struck with the nast that is croup. It wasn’t our best week as far as sleeping goes. Thankfully, it was cold outside, and, apparently, croup is afraid of the cold and leaves its victims alone while they’re sucking in frigid air. I spent a semi-sweet couple of hours sleeping with blanketed Olivia on my chest next to an open window.

George, however, got hit first, and since we had no idea what we were facing, I took him and his weird cough to the ER at 3 a.m. Already bewildered and feeling like crud, George didn’t exactly cooperate when the young ER doc bounded in (then subsequently didn’t believe my nurse mother-in-law’s phone diagnosis of croup. He was later proven incorrect.). At that point, I tried my new party trick of trying to get George to talk to a stranger.

“Hi, Dr. Whatshisname. Where are you from?”

“Uh, I’m from Alabama originally…”

“Wow, George, Dr. Whatshisname is from Alabama! What’s the capital of Alabama?”

George would then whisper, “Montgomery,” and incite admiration and praise from said stranger.

Maybe it was a cheap attempt to create a connection between my reserved kiddo and a health professional, but it tended to work fairly well.

I’ve also started buying anything with the American flag involved. Thankfully, most stores over-purchased for July last year, so we got some great deals in September.

I didn’t expect to have a preschooler who could rattle off states, capitals, and countries. I was more prepared for Disney characters and Calliou (whom we still haven’t discovered), so this has been an interesting twist. Marry a smart man; get smart babies. Which is usually a good thing…until you start to realize they’re gaining on you.

Side Note: In our insanely competitive world, I feel like this post warrants a disclaimer. I’m not “humble bragging” or simply flaunting one of my child’s unusual skills. There are times when I’m concerned about his development in some areas, while my friends are worried about their children’s development in these areas. We all have our battles, and we’re all just trying our best. I simply want to share what worked for our little goob. Also, my floor is constantly littered with U.S. states puzzle pieces, which I trip over or step on repeatedly throughout the day. So, is it really a boon?

Quiet-time aftermath. Circa: three days ago. You’re looking at three US states puzzles, a world atlas rug, and an interactive globe. Y’all. I didn’t see this coming.

I don’t have a formula or system in place to teach George new things. I just shoot blindly in the dark, and sometimes he takes something and runs like mad. He started with the alphabet at 18 months and, frankly, never set that one down. We have at least five ABC puzzles, all of which are devoid of their pieces, as they’re collected together in a box so he can create words at will. I also spent hours and hours and HOURS writing the alphabet in sidewalk chalk on our driveway.

The recent produce obsession has led to veeery long times in the Publix produce section.

He did have a short-lived interest in planets, but I didn’t really know where to go after he had learned the 8.5 (I’m giving the half for Pluto) names. He then moved on to states, then capitals, then countries. He next discovered the periodic table of elements and fell head-over-heels for this song. He’s recently taken an interest in produce, which is ironic, because he won’t try anything (even though I KNOW he would love them! Grrr…).

And so, I thought I’d share the resources we’ve used to teach our son the states and their capitals…in the off chance someone out there in the Internet cosmos has an interest.

Like I said, I don’t have a system. I don’t strap him to a chair and force him to review flash cards. While other kids are using their imaginations or climbing trees, he’s looking at maps and singing the Fifty Nifty song. Then again, his imaginary friends are states, so maybe he’s pretending more than I notice. We all have our strengths and weaknesses…some more fun than others.

Wooden US States Puzzle: OK, I can’t even find a link to the version we have. I was impulse-buying my way through our local second-hand children’s shop and stumbled across it. I was certain we’d have to tuck it away in George’s closet until he was older, but after doing it with him a handful of times, he got the hang of where the pieces went. Then I just kept saying the state names over and over. Eventually I added capitals to spice up our lives.

YouTube videos: As I hope I’ve made clear, I’m not an anti-screen mama. I wish I could live that life, but, well, that’s just not how things are going to go down in our house. Mostly, George watches and prefers YouTube videos. He mainly enjoys educational videos. Shocking, I know. Remember that I’m trying to raise little nerds over here.


George spotted this man’s tattoo at a Florida Gator football game. Like any good mother, I then forced them both to take a photo together.

Am I allowed to admit that I have some favorites? I have all of them memorized, so I may as well share those I prefer, eh?

Animaniac’s United States and Capitals Song – As an adult, I am SO impressed by the writing on this show!

States and Capitals Song by Music Stew – I spent a lot of time wondering how they made this one.

Marbles the Brain Store created Tour the States, which I find super catchy. Here’s their global edition.

Apps: Stack the States and Stack the States 2 have been great for George. They were even better once he could read the names of the states and capitals, mainly so I wouldn’t have to sit next to him to play the game (does this make me sound so lazy?). There’s also Stack the Countries, but beware, because, apparently, parents are expected to know the location of all African countries. Does anyone know that?!

Soon after this, we celebrated George’s 3rd birthday, and he received no less than five new US states puzzles. We already had at least four, so it’s amazing we haven’t gotten any duplicates. Our favorites are the puzzles with pieces shaped like actual states. I usually do the frame edge and leave the states for George to complete while I get something productive accomplished (i.e. feed Olivia her 23rd snack of the day).

The grandmas attempting a puzzle that’s just a bit outside of George’s current ability. It’s tucked away for future fun, Miss Brie! 

We also discovered the Scrambled States of America books, which, admittedly, aren’t my favorite, but seem to do the trick with George. They’re wordy and full of puns for the adult crowd. I recently discovered an accompanying board game, which is for older kids, and puzzle, which has state-shaped pieces that, ironically, don’t correspond with their states.

My most recent purchase was the ALEX Toys Rub a Dub USA Map in the Tub. I bought this before we went to Alaska so George would get it while he was staying with my parents. A bit of mom guilt, perhaps? This one is fun, but has gotten a bit annoying as it makes bath time drag on until he’s finished.

I kept this one as modest as possible.

And those are the main pillars of my son’s U.S. geography education! We also seem to talk a lot about states—What’s in each state, who’s from different states, why people visit states, etc. Sometimes it gets old, but with the way little kids fixate on things, if it’s not one thing, it’ll definitely be another.

What’s something your kid just fell in love with? Got any stories as to how it started?

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Lana Cole says:

    Wow!😮that’s so impressive!💗


  2. Curt Lewis says:

    My 2 and half year old grandson knows all the states and capitals I think he has a photographic memory as I only showed him the map a couple of times. Moving on to math now lol


    1. seemamaread says:

      Yes! I think little kids have amazing memories, especially if they’re trying to remember something they care about. Good luck with math! 🙂


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