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Learning with Maps


It is important for kids to not only learn about the world around them, but also to be able to read maps. We spend a lot of time looking at maps and learning about different areas. We regularly hike and travel.

I was born and raised in a different country, and, being a military family, we are often faced with long deployments. The kids seem to feel more at ease when they understand the how, the why, and the what of every situation they are facing.

So when their dad is away, we bring out the map or the globe and I show them where we are and where dad is, and we work out how far away that is and what is in-between. It puts things in perspective for them. They draw treasure hunt maps and maps of how they get from home to school, and they love to look at maps to learn where animals, birds, and flowers are from. And we read books to learn more about maps. One of their favorites is Cat in the Hat: There’s a Map in My Lap!

Whether you hike, visit National Parks, go to theme parks, or even go to the local zoo, more often than not you will have a map with you, either a fold-out map that you can hold, or one on your smart phone, where you might be tracking the distance you walk, or the route you are taking. Or you might be lucky enough to come upon maps along your route like we often do.

Allow the kids time to study these maps. Show them where they are on the map and where they will be going, and point out things that they might see along the way.

Don’t forget to teach about the legend on a map. Help your children understand what each of the symbols mean, from the difference between roads and highways, to where campgrounds, parks, malls, airports, and other landmarks can be found. Our five-year-old son can look at the GPS in the car and will shout out with excitement as soon as he sees a train track appear, and he will eagerly look out the window hoping he’ll see a train on the track.

Here are some fun map activities to do with your kids:

  • Treasure Map: Have them hide a special treasure in the house or yard and create a map of where it can be found; make sure they create a legend of special things such as stairs or a tree.
  • Every-day Map: Create maps of how they get to and from school or other places they regularly attend. Mark the streets that they cross, traffic lights, and other landmarks. Have them draw pictures of things that they have seen on the way.
  • Hiking: Take a map along and have the kids draw things on the map that they have seen, such as pretty birds or flowers.
  • House Map:¬† Have your child create a map of your home. Older children can measure each room and re-create it to scale; younger children will enjoy drawing each room and adding in features such as beds and toys.
  • Scavenger Hunt: For your next play-date or birthday party, plan a scavenger hunt. Give each child a list of items that need to be collected, drawn, or photographed such as finding information on a sign, looking for leaves of different colors, or spotting a particular bird or plant.
  • Geocaching:¬†This is like a treasure hunt on a much bigger scale and is great fun for the whole family. The kids will get to explore a new area, read maps, and find (and leave) a treasure on their adventure.