It's a big world out there --- and even children as young as kindergarten age can learn how to use maps to navigate their way through it. While young children are still developing the spatial and conceptual skills required to understand distance, kindergarten teachers can introduce some early mapping concepts through fun activities designed to help young children understand how maps work.
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The first step to reading any map is understanding the meaning of the symbols , so engage kindergartners in activities to help them understand symbols. For example, create a large map of a fictional town, or use an enlarged map of your own town, and mark the areas that children are familiar with, using large representations of the location. Use a large tree to represent the park or forest, a school house for the school and a large red cross for the hospital. Encourage children to come up with their own ideas for symbols and add them to the map. Another possible activity is to have kindergartners create their own town. Give them a blank map and a worksheet with symbols they can colour and ask them to place the symbols on the map.
Once children understand how to read and understand the symbols on a map, you can move on to lessons in how to read a map. One fun method of teaching map reading skills is a treasure hunt. Create a treasure map with an "X" marking the location of the treasure --- a small prize or treat is a good treasure --- and a map with instructions the children should follow to locate the treasure. Children can work in pairs or small groups to decipher the map; keep the search area small so no one gets lost. For example, create an outdoor treasure hunt on the playground, with the map indicating that children should visit the swings, the slide, the jungle gym and other playground landmarks before reaching the treasure.
U.S. and World Maps
While kindergartners may have difficulty conceptualising the world outside of their own hometown, you can begin to introduce them to the world with maps. Choose a different country or region to study each week, and mark each country you study on the map. For each country you choose, read stories about that land and incorporate other lessons about the country and its culture into other classroom activities. Use these large maps of the U.S. or the world to play a game of "How far?" with the students. Ask the students to list the places that they have visited --- you may need to have parents help with this in advance --- and mark each place on the map with a pin. Have the children determine who has travelled the farthest, and allow them to talk about the different places they have seen.
As your students develop their mapping skills, ask them to create maps of familiar areas, such as the classroom, their home or their bedroom. Demonstrate how to draw the location of furniture on the map grid, emphasising the concept of scale. Alternatively, provide a blank map of your school or playground, using symbols to identify familiar places, and ask children to use the map to create a route from the classroom to another location.
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