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Teach Your Child How to Read a Map

Reading a map is a skill that children love using. There is a sense of adventure that goes along with traveling and exploring with the aid of a map! Teaching your child to read a map will be an enjoyable task.

Maps have been one of the most instrumental tools in human existence. Knowing how to get from here to there has always been important. Explorers charted their paths and opened up new territories by virtue of maps. And of course the pirates found their buried treasure chests with the help of a treasure map!

Taking the time to teach your child how to read a map when your child is ready will be giving them a start on an important life skill.


Little children can be prepared for learning to read a map by becoming familiar with directional words used in daily conversation. Words and phrase such as above and below, to the right and to the left, farther and nearer, here and there, can help your child with the concept of location.

Looking up at the night sky and seeing the sky and moon will show them that some things are very far away. The relationship between the sun and the earth can be demonstrated by observing day and night and the weather.

Very young children do not have the capacity to understand the symbolic nature of a map, but they instinctively know the world is big and the sky is bigger. In time they will show interest in maps when others are using them.

Main points to address:

  • Use directional words in everyday life.
  • Let your child observe the stars, moon, and the movement of the sun.
  • Young children think concretely and will have a hard time with the concept of a map as the representation of an area.

Grades K-3rd

Young school age children can start to read simple maps at about age 7 or 8. Because abstract thinking does not emerge until this age, it is rather difficult to convey the concept of representing real places on flat paper with diagrams and symbols.

One of the best ways to introduce map reading is to create a map of a familiar area together. You may want to map out your backyard, a small park or your child’s bedroom. Keeping things simple and not being fussy about lack of proportion and perspective is best.

Every map needs a key or legend. Creating symbols that look like objects in the area you are mapping will help your child make the conceptual leap. For example: the symbol for a swing set could be a small drawn swing set.

This is a good time to introduce the “compass rose” indicating the directions North, South, East and West. You can help them understand this by following the sun’s path from sunrise to sunset.

You may want to display your map as a reminder of the components in a physical map. This is a good time to introduce other simple maps, such as maps of a neighborhood, mall or school building.

Third graders have the skills to comprehend fancier maps, such as world maps, road maps and landform or physical maps. Political maps can also be introduced, but the idea of “countries” is still nebulous unless your family is well traveled. The idea of continents is fairly easy to comprehend with the aid of a globe.

You may encounter maps at parks and travel stops. Spend some time finding where you are and where you are going. Trace the route you will be taking. Your child will likely be fascinated.

Main points to address:

  • Reading a map requires the ability to think abstractly, which occurs between ages 7 to 9.
  • Introduce maps by making one of a familiar area with your child.
  • Use simple symbols to make a key.
  • Take some time to notice maps as you travel.

Grade 4-6th

Older school children generally love maps and are eager to use them. They can also understand the directions North East, North West, South East and South West.

When hiking, find a trail guide and plan your trip with it. While vacationing, trace the route you will take from one place to the next. If someone will be visiting, find the place on a map they will be coming from.

Kids this age can begin to understand a scale of miles or kilometers. This is also an abstract concept that will come gradually with use.

Floor plans are maps too. They give your child a chance to try designing a room, house or other structure. Many famous architects began creating plans at a young age! You can draw a grid or use graph paper. Show them how to use a unit to represent a specific distance, for example: one unit on the grid equals two feet. A ruler can help keep your lines straight.

Your child may want to create a map for a scavenger or treasure hunt. Hiding “treasure” and creating a map for friends and family to follow will make a memorable childhood experience.

Map reading is fun and something the whole family can learn to do. Start small and simple to avoid frustration. As the years pass this will become a skill your child will be proud they possess.

Main Points to Address:

  • Plan your vacation or a hike with the aid of a map. Let your child help.
  • Introduce a distance scale, but go slowly.
  • Floor plans drawn on graph paper are fun to design.
  • Your child may want to design a map for a treasure or scavenger hunt.
  • Learning to read and use maps is a process. Use patience!

Resources that can help you in your venture include:

Posted in Education.

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