With Google Maps always at our fingertips, it is easy to let simple skills like understanding a map fall to the wayside. However, teaching map skills to kids is still important, even to students as young as kindergarteners. Not only will they learn the obvious, like how to make sense of a map, but there are also many other skills they will learn along the way.
One of the biggest skills that students can take away from a kindergarten map unit is directionality and important directional words. This not only applies to the directions found on a compass rose like north, south, east and west, but even words like left and right can be used to describe 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, students also learn simple directionality skills that they can apply in real life.
Another important concept to cover when teaching map skills is symbols. Students probably don’t already know that sometimes symbols stand for other things or haven’t quite made the connection yet. Learning how to read a legend can help them to understand that. They can see that a bus station might be represented by a picture of a bus, a police station may be represented by a badge, and a fire station could be represented with a picture of fire. Then, they can use that knowledge to find those things on a map.
Learning that pictures can represent other things is a skill that will be useful and can be applied to many other situations, as well. For example, when students do addition and subtraction problems, they may draw a circle to represent flowers. When discussing a weather graph, they need to know that a picture of a sun represents a sunny day. Learning about symbols through map skills is a great way to help students grasp the concept of pictures representing other things.
Places is another key concept that students can begin to grasp when learning map skills. For example, when looking at a world map, students can see that huge oceans separate different continents. Seeing those continents and having some background knowledge is something that will help students make sense of a number of other things.
For example, when you read a nonfiction book about animals to students, the book includes where the animal lives. A nonfiction book about holidays or traditions likely mentions the place from which those holidays or traditions originated. Without any prior knowledge about maps, those facts are meaningless to students. In teaching map skills, you give students the ability to connect these facts to different places in the world.
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 a great visual that helps them to see that they live in all of those places and that smaller places fit within larger places.
Through a kindergarten map unit, students can learn many different map skills. They can identify key vocabulary terms, directionality, where different places are, and where they live. Not only is teaching map skills important should students ever need to read a map, but they also help students make sense of the world around them and give them skills they can use outside of reading maps.