In school, you were likely taught that a map was a visual representation of geographic features. All your child needs to know is a map shows him the world around him, whether it be his own room or the whole city. Once your kiddo begins map-making, the world of pretend opens up even more. Don’t be surprised if he suddenly wants to pretend he’s a wildlife explorer or pirate on the hunt for treasure. You can get on the fun yourself by pretending you are the corresponding GPS voice. It's surprisingly cathartic to say, "recalculating."
1. Playing with Blocks
In a world where parents rely on Internet maps with street views and 3D functions, it’s not too surprising that young children often make more accurate maps when using 3D materials. Start simple by making a map of the house by building pieces of furniture with blocks, or even making each block represent a piece of furniture. Challenge your child to use toy cars or miniature animals to figure out a path from her bedroom to the laundry room. Once she proves she knows the way, you can ask her to go pick up her dirty laundry and take it to the washer. Who knew map-making and chores could go hand in hand? Bonus!
2. Take a Walk
Take a walk around the neighborhood together. While it’s rude to point, it’s pretty necessary for map-making. Point out any recognizable landmarks like a friend’s house, a favorite place to play or the neighbor’s obnoxious barking dog. When you get home, make a map together of the places you most remember. If drawing is not your child’s cup of tea, look around the house for small toys that could represent each object. Then draw a line around the neighborhood map to show where you walked. To negate the risk of this activity becoming boring, boost your child’s ego by making it a playdate and inviting another preschooler over to read the map. Finish by letting your child play tour guide and take your group on the same exact walk.
3. Treasure Hunting
Crumple paper into a ball and then carefully smooth it back out. Place the paper on a cookie sheet and let your child drizzle cold coffee all over it. Let it soak for a few minutes, then pull it out and hang it to dry. If your child gets impatient for the drying process, you can use a blow dryer to speed it along. Use markers to draw the map, as the paper won’t be strong enough to withstand hard-pressing crayons. Ask your child to draw a map of one level of the house. Keep it extremely simple for her. A square can represent a television while a rectangle may be the table. Even if the map looks like it’s filled with scribbles, ask your little one to explain her map to you. Take turns hiding an item or items around the house and mark each "treasure" with a different colored "X."
Brainstorm with your child all the places he visits in town each week or month like the library, the grocery store, daycare or church. Get some magazines or stickers and let him pick photos to cut out or stickers that he feels best represent the places he visits. With a large piece of paper, point out which direction is north and write an "N" for him in the appropriate place. Place an "X" or a photo of a house in the middle, representing your home. Discuss which direction each landmark is in regard to your house and let your child glue on the photographs he collected. The next time you go to that place, let your child hold his map and consult him, asking him if you’re going in the right direction. Not only will this build confidence, but your child will more actively start to observe the world around him.
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