Mapping Skills for Elementary Students (K-3)
A couple of weeks ago my children and I set out with our co-op to do a mapping skills exercise. (This sounds super official, but translated that’s me and two friends and all our kids learning directions and beginning mapping!) We have a range of ages so we have different difficulty levels for the activities.) We met up to teach cardinal directions (north, south, east, west) to the younger students, and combine that with beginning mapping for our K-3 students. In this age of directions read aloud to us at the push of a button, I want to make sure my children understand how to read a map. Hopefully this will also encourage a good sense of direction at some point. (Please tell me it doesn’t make me old that I remember looking up streets for my mother on a map while we were driving around!) So here’s what we did, and what map skills worksheets we used.
We met up in our local little Old Town, because it’s pedestrian-friendly and is laid out in square blocks. First up, cardinal directions! One of my friends lined up all the kids facing north, and introduced the mnemonic Never Eat Sour Worms (there’s a whole list of mnemonics here!) going around clockwise. They practiced that a few times, and then I hauled out my atlas, showed them our city on the map, and had them point to where we would wind up if we went north, then east, etc. (South lands you in the water down here!) Time to put this new knowledge into action. The smallest children got papers with the cardinal directions listed; each time we changed direction they put a check mark next the new direction we were going. (You can see the worksheet she typed up in the first picture.) They also got a road sign scavenger hunt to keep them engaged while we talked. A stationary worksheet that would have worked well is to fill in what you see in each direction around you:
The website has numerous worksheets similar to this one, and you can find them all over here.
For the “older” children (the ones in kindergarten and 2nd grade), I handed them a city block grid to map where we walked. This City block grid is the one that I found at the last minute to print off to use (real-life confessions!), before I figured out how to make my own blank one for mapping. You can make your own grids, with wide “streets” for younger kids, and smaller ones for more detailed mapping for older kids. (Here is the tutorial on how to make the table grids wider and gray.) Then as we walked the kids traced where we were going, and occasionally we stopped to draw in our own landmarks (if you can read our map, we saw an ice cream shop and a motel with a prominent sign). In order to do this they had to keep their map oriented correctly, and put some spatial awareness to work to figure out where to place things on their new map.
If you can also see on the map, we walked right past our fire station…and it so happened that several of our firemen were all geared up to meet a school field trip! So we got a personal tour of the fire engine, and got to ask questions (well, we mamas did… the kiddoes were too busy playing with the helmet!). Talk about day made!
After we left the fire station, we finished our mapping skills route and headed back to the our cars. Our little exercise took us an hour total, even with the fire station detour. If your group is exclusively in the K-3 range-ish, you could definitely take more time and map with more detail. Next time we may also give directions to wind up at a treat stop… 😉 On the way home I had my kids guess in which direction we were driving each time we made a turn. My van displays the direction, so I had to cover it up while they guessed, but it also lead to a good discussion of “What does NW mean??”
If you’d like to do something like this mapping exercise, here is my printable for your own blank city block map skills worksheet if you want to do this exercise with your elementary aged students. Printable: BlockGrid.
Google image search “compass rose” and then print off one you like. Have the little ones point/circle/put a check mark next to the direction you’re heading.
What activities have you done to teach mapping skills to your kids? I plan to do more and would love to hear some ideas!