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How to introduce your child to the conventions of maps!

by Jeannie Brown

Did you ever do D of E at school? The Duke of Edinburgh Award (D of E) is basically a programme in which young people complete a variety of activities, one of which includes planning out an expedition, trekking along the countryside with rucksacks and then camping out overnight. There is a bronze, silver and gold award…bronze supposedly being the easiest to complete. Now I don’t want to be dramatic and say I found the entire experience to be hell on earth but if I’d also been offered a trip to the lagoon that weekend to go swimming with a gang of crocodiles who had a penchant for brunettes, I know which one I would have picked…I wasn’t a big fan of walking, my piddly little arms barely held up a rucksack twice my weight, I didn’t know how cook, put up a tent or most importantly of all: I had no idea how to read a map. Looking back I can see what an asset to the team I was…

With the release of our new books coming out soon:

We thought it would be the perfect time to explore why maps are so important and how you can introduce your child to them! Hopefully this blog post will save you from a phone call from your child on their D of E trip who is speaking in sobs, having just spent two hours holding a map and walking round in circles. They may even be lamenting on their fear that they’re trespassing through a field of sheep and what if a farmer appears out of nowhere with a cowboy hat on, a piece of straw dangling from his lips like a cigarette and wielding a shotgun whilst yelling ‘get off my land.’ Not that I can relate…  

  1. One of the biggest advantages of studying a map is the fact that they can broaden your child’s knowledge of the world around them. If little ones start their understanding of maps by drawing a map of a room they are currently in, it’ll help them to understand how big everything is in that room in relation to them and develop their spatial awareness. Drawing and understanding maps is an important tool to help them understand where they are if they are walking around a new school or a new surrounding that they are unfamiliar with. You can further develop their appreciation of maps by creating a treasure hunt, this is a fun and exciting learning method to help your child to further their understanding of how a drawing on a piece of paper relates to and coordinates with the things they can see around them. 
  2. It’s time to look at more complicated maps! A map of your local area is a great way to give you a sense of direction and help you to explore the outdoors. However, you may be wondering how to help your child to read a map and use it as a guide if they are lost? Maps are complex so start off with the basics! Teach your child some of the different symbols on a map, for example what is the symbol for: a castle, a camp site, a golf course, a parking area, a picnic area, a public telephone for emergencies, a country park, a cycle trail. These are quite simple symbols visually but important ones to know if you are completely lost and need to find an area where it’s likely you will find other people! Once they have a goal of where they want to go, they’ll need to learn how to navigate to this place. Increase their knowledge by explaining more symbols to your child: what do major roads and railway lines look like on a map? How is a footpath represented? Where on their route might they find a bridge? What do streams and rivers look like on a map? They may want to avoid going in certain secluded areas like a forest. If they can read contour lines then they will know what steep hills to avoid if they don’t fancy doing a challenging hill climb! A map is a great way to plan out an adventure, if they know how to read a map it’ll give them the tools to develop a sense of independence and decide exactly where they want to travel. 
  3. Allowing your child to explore an Atlas’ with varying themes is a great way to expand their knowledge of the world! For example, an Atlas which shows an array of famous landmarks and different country’s flags will perhaps encourage a sense of interest in other places and cultures. There is also a story behind every landmark, look at the pyramids in Egypt or the Eiffel Tower in France, showing your child a famous landmark opens an opportunity for them to learn about the history of the world. This sense of expanding their general knowledge is the same for an animal or dinosaur Atlas as it details a range of exotic creatures that your child may never have been exposed to in the country you currently live in or something they have never heard about as dinosaurs are extinct! 
  4. A world map is a helpful tool in helping them to gain a grasp of the vast amount of space in the world. They can learn exactly how many different countries there are and all the places they can potentially explore…whenever Covid travel restrictions are completely eased at least, ‘I just want to sit on a beach in New Zealand!’ we’ve all collectively screamed into the void for about two years now. Nevertheless, a map is a form of escapism and even a symbol of hope as it shows that there are so many great places to be explored one day in the future.

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