Maps provide awesome guidance for learning! Despite GPS, map reading and map skills are still super important skills for kids to learn. Plus, map skills for kids are something they will use their entire lives!
Map Reading for Kids
MapQuest was the beginning of the end, am I right? Mapping programs and now GPS made map reading seem ancient and outdated. But there are still a lot of very important skills kids can learn from map reading.
The basics of reading a map include topics such as the four cardinal directions (North, South, East, and West), how to read a legend, identifying the symbols on a map, understanding the grid system, and how to use a compass.
But map reading for kids also helps them learn spatial awareness and reasoning skills and how to make sense of the world around them. Understanding directions and where things are on a map will help them navigate their surroundings whether that be in their local community or out in the wilderness.
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Mapping Activities for Kids
Map reading is for children of all ages! It is never too early (or late) to start kids on mapping reading worksheets. Children’s maps are easy to find online and adapt to your situation.
The best way to make sure your children learn how to use maps is to use them! Pick up a simple map of your town or area and tuck that into your family hiking daypack or everyday mom purse to have on hand on your regular walks around home. And, below you’ll find some other great ideas to get your kids moving and learning:
Preschool Map Activities
A Map Treasure Hunt – draw a map of your home or yard (or have your older kids do this), then hide items and have your younger kids use the map to find the items.
You could take this even further and have your kids make a map of your community or of a route they take frequently – like to school or Grandma’s house.
Have them add geographical features, directions, and interesting landmarks, such as the map symbol for school, community helpers (think fire station, police station, and hospital), church, and the library. Don’t forget to make a legend too!
It could be a lot of fun to add other notable items on the map like favorite tree, fun yellow house, friendly dog lives here, and so on.
Map Activities for older kids
Way Finding – take a map of your local trails or roadways out on an excursion. Have the kids try to follow or locate your position on the map and make their way back again by following the map. Have your kids create a map of your neighborhood and the surrounding streets from memory. Make sure to label streets and landmarks and then set out on a walk to check their accuracy.
Geographical Identification – if you happen to live somewhere in the mountains or hills, you could bring a map outside and use the map’s features to help the kids identify the peaks they can see in the distance. Then try looking at those same features from different locations to see how the perspective changes. If you don’t live around mountains, you could make your way to a high point overlooking a creek, river, or shoreline. Even in the city, it could be fun to go up to the top of different buildings and compare how the city looks different from varying locations.
Compass Play – bring a compass outside, go somewhere unfamiliar and try to use nearby clues and your senses to locate the directions. Then, use the compass to confirm and explore walking and watching how the compass moves and changes.
Highway Travels – Pull out that old Rand McNally Atlas or play around on Google Earth. Show the kids how to follow the roads away from your home in all directions and see where it takes you. Or, give them a destination and have them figure out the best route to get there.
These are some excellent life skills that will come in very handy in their future!
If time and life allow, let the kids plan a road trip. Give them a few landmarks to visit and have them map out the route then actually get out and drive using their directions. You could even make it a spur-of-the-moment activity and have your kids choose a direction to travel and find things to do on the way, from landmarks to visit and places to eat or sleep! It’s a great way to teach responsibility, planning, and have a lot of fun as a family.
Geocaching – This is perhaps the ultimate adventure activity in terms of mapping and map play. However, I’ve found that when I do this with my kids we don’t actually do anything in terms of map learning. They simply follow the directions on the GPS and walk.
So, to try to integrate map skills while geocaching with kids, I do try to have a map on-hand and we also used it to compare the coordinates and determine our route to the next cache. The level of map learning would depend on how far apart the caches are and their locations.
Map Art – This is a lovely map art project suggested by Our Family Code which uses a map of your community and resist art to arrive at a beautiful and unique final piece.
Tools for Map Play
You don’t need much more than a map to teach kids about reading them, but if tools and gadgets get you and your kids excited you might want to consider some of these:
- Binoculars – especially if looking for landmarks that may be a ways off, kids will love using binoculars in real life situations.
- Compass – obviously a compass comes in handy when reading a map or determining your location. Kids learning to navigate using cardinal directions is an essential tool for their futures.
- Flashlight – Don’t be afraid to teach at night! Once your kids have caught on during daylight hours, give them a flashlight and present them with a new night time challenge.
If you’re looking for a map skills game, you could use this Treasure Hunter Kit. Especially for younger kids, you could create your own geocaching site in your backyard using this fun little set.
Map books for Kids
Using Map reading worksheets and finding children’s maps will help get you started. Map skills for kids will improve with practice, so finding ways your kids can engage in different uses and making of maps will all help build a strong sense of confidence around way-finding as they grow.
It may be helpful to find children’s books about maps that help engage your kids in the process. The book Follow That Map!: A First Book of Mapping Skills is a great place to start.
Hopefully you’ve found some fun and easy mapping activities to get your kids learning. Remember, if kids are playing, they’re learning.
Let the activities be light and easy-going and each time a map is handed to your littles they’ll get more and more comfortable with understanding their place and position in the wider world. And, hopefully this interest and learning will help inspire more adventure and travel in your family!