With Google Maps constantly at our fingertips, it is easy to let simple skills like understanding a map fall to the wayside. However, teaching map skills to young learners are still essential, even to young students like kindergarteners. For example, they can learn to make sense of a map, map key, and map symbols. These concepts can help students improve their spatial awareness and understand the world around them.
Use Directionality to Teach Map Skills
Essential skills students can take away from a kindergarten map unit are directionality and important directional words. For example, Cardinal directions on a compass rose like north, south, east, and west, and words like left and right are a great introduction to understanding map elements. In addition, these directions help students identify where a place is.
Sure, our kindergarteners might not be giving someone directions to the nearest restaurant or gas station, but they may help a friend find a toy with simple directions like, “Look to the left of the blocks,” or “The ball is on your right.” In teaching map skills, young children also learn simple directionality skills that they can apply in real life.
Teach Maps with Symbols
Symbols are another critical concept to cover when teaching map skills. Students probably don’t know that symbols stand for other things or haven’t entirely made the connection yet. Learning how to read a legend can help them understand these basic concepts. For example, they can see that a picture of a bus might represent a bus station, a badge may mean a police station, and a picture of fire could represent a fire station with an image of fire. Then, they can use that knowledge to find those important features on a map.
Learning that pictures can represent other things is a valuable skill that students can apply to many situations. For example, when students do addition and subtraction problems, they may draw a circle to represent flowers. Likewise, when discussing a weather graph, they need to know that a picture of the sun means a sunny day. Learning about symbols through map skills is a great way to help students grasp the concept of pictures representing other things.
Teaching Map Skills Helps Students Learn Places
Places are another critical concept that students can grasp when learning map skills. For example, when looking at a world map, students can see that oceans separate different continents. Seeing those continents and identifying parts of a map will translate into valuable skills they will need for academic learning.
For example, when you read a nonfiction book about animals to students, the book includes where the animal lives. Likewise, a nonfiction book about holidays or traditions likely mentions where those holidays or traditions originated. However, those facts are meaningless to early learners without prior knowledge about maps. In teaching map skills, you give students the ability to connect these facts to different places in the world.
Teaching Map Skills Helps Kids Learn Where They Live
When you ask students where they live, what do they say? Their state, their country, their city? Maybe they would even simply say in their house. Regardless of which answer they gave, they are correct, but this is a hard concept for kindergarteners to understand. It is hard for them to grasp that they live on a street that is in a city, in a city that is in a state, a state that is in a country, and so forth.
For this reason, I like to help students make sense of where they fit in the world by doing a circle booklet. As the circles of the book get smaller, so do the places they represent. This gives students spatial awareness by showing them they live in all of those places and that smaller places fit within larger places.
A kindergarten map unit is a great opportunity for students to learn new concepts such as map skills. They can identify key vocabulary terms, directionality, where different places are, and where they live. Not only is teaching map skills necessary, but it also helps students’ understanding of the world around them and gives them skills they can use outside of reading maps.