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Teaching Map Skills Stage by Stage

Map skills are not just about knowledge of the world around us. They are also integral for daily life. In this world of Google, GPS on our phones, and digital everything, it is important to be intentional about teaching map skills.

Basic Map Skills to Teach

Here are some basic map skills to cover with you children.

Map Types

Learn the difference between the various types of maps:

– Political
– Physical
– Economic
– Topographic
– Climatic

– Thematic
– Road
– Historic
– Globes

Map Language

Learn about a map legend, symbols used on a map, scale, and the compass. Also, contemplate the challenge of and solutions for translating information from a globe to a flat page.

Following a Map

Learn how to follow a map, whether it is a simple backyard treasure map or a road map utilized for a family road trip.

Teaching Map Skills Stage by Stage

How do you know what to teach when? Here are tips for teaching map skills in each stage of learning.

Starting Out

PreK - 1st Grade

In these earliest years, it is important to keep map learning simple and fun, introducing map concepts through projects and real life activities. Here are a few ideas:

  • Cut posterboard to scale to match a room in your house. Cut smaller pieces of card stock to match pieces of furniture. Have your child place the card stock pieces in the correct locations to create a map of the room.
  • Enjoy a treasure hunt! Create a simple map of your house or backyard. Hide a treat in a secret location marked on the map, then have your child follow the map to the treat.
  • Keep an atlas, simple markable map, or inflatable globe handy when reading a new reader or read aloud. Find the locations mentioned in the story.
  • Teach basic compass directions.
  • Mark a world map with your home location and the location of missionaries or unreached people groups your family is praying for.
  • Show how to distinguish between land and water on a map.

Getting Excited

2nd - 4th Grade

These are great years to solidify the introduction to maps. In fact, it’s not too late to start that introduction in these years! Keep utilizing some of the suggestions from the Starting Out stage, but increase the complexity a bit through activities like these:

  • Learn the names of the continents and oceans.
  • Use map puzzles of all kinds to increase familiarity with maps and locations.
  • Introduce vocabulary like town, city, state, country, and capital, as well as latitude and longitude.
  • Learn how to read different topographical symbols on maps.
  • Let your child become a budding meteorologist, gaining familiarity with maps by keeping an eye on the weather radar.
  • Have your child create a map from your house to a familiar location such as church, the post office, or a favorite store.
  • Grab a site map whenever you go to the zoo, a museum, or any other field trip destination. Have your child help you determine where to go and how to get there.
  • Continue to use a map or atlas to find locations mentioned in history, readers, and read-alouds.

Beginning to Understand

5th - 8th Grade

You established a great foundation in the younger years. Now it is time to build on that foundation with more in-depth map skills.

  • Teach the grid concept, showing your child how to find points on a map using a grid key.
  • Introduce different types of maps, what they show, and how to read them.
  • Learn about geographic features.
  • Explore maps with different scales. Practice finding distances between points on the map.
  • Learn to overlay various types of maps, exploring how geography affects settling and development of towns, cities, and modes of transportation.
  • Study latitude, longitude, and how to determine location based on latitude and longitude.
  • Explore the relationship between climate and latitude or topography.
  • Continue to label locations mentioned in history, readers, and read-alouds.
  • Use games and puzzles to gain familiarity with specific countries and cities.
  • Learn the states and their capitals.

Learning to Reason

9th - 12th Grade

These years provide the opportunity to both hone map skills and learn solid familiarity with our world and its features.

  • As your student learns to drive, refrain from using the GPS and rely instead on street maps for both short and long trips.
  • Divide the world into segments, learning countries and capitals from each continent. For a challenge, spend the high school years learning how to label a blank map of the world.
  • While national borders for North and South America have maintained a great deal of consistency, Europe, Asia, and Africa have seen much change in borders and country names. Pick a region or continent and explore the differences observed over the decades and centuries.
  • Can your student label major rivers of the world like the Amazon and Nile Rivers, major mountain ranges and famous peaks, and prominent seas and lakes? If labeling maps for history and reading has not solidified these locations, make sure your student learns them during the high school years.

With five kids in their teen and early adult years, Rebecca shares the many ups and downs of parenting, homeschooling, and keeping it all together. As the Well Planned Gal she mentors women towards the goal of discovering the uniqueness Christ has created in them and their family and how to best organize and plan for the journey they will travel.

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