In this activity, we'll engage kids in making a map of an outdoor space that they know really well. For a twist, you can also welcome kids to make a map of the outdoor space of their dreams—what would that space have in it?
- Explore maps with curiosity. Find an atlas, fold out maps or just peruse online to view different maps, including maps of places that you know. Wonder about what different colors, shapes and marks mean. Make connections between features on the maps of familiar places with spaces you know well.
Without expecting kids to fully understand, share your curiosity about maps and enjoy just exposing kids to maps.
- Study a familiar outdoor space. Use all of the senses you can to study your outdoor space:
- Look at what living things, natural features and man-made objects you find in the outdoor space.
- Listen for the sounds you can hear. Do you hear wind passing through? Creatures communicating? Other sounds?
- Sniff around to see what kinds of smells hit your nose. Where do those smells come from?
- Feel what makes that space special. Are there spots that are hotter or cooler than others? Does the elevation change? Are there soft spots to lay? Rough surfaces to feel?
- Set out to make a map. Wonder with kids how you could make a map to share what it's like to be in this outdoor space with other people.
- Download and print our My Outdoor Space map worksheet, complete with a few common features you can cut out and add to your map.
- Get a poster, piece of paper or even cut open a brown paper grocery bag.
- Gather art materials. Grab markers, pens, crayons, paints, scissors, glue or tape—whatever you need to add things to your map.
- Add features to your map. It can help to start with the big things. You can begin with wherever you tend to enter or exit. Or start with an anchor like your favorite tree, a body of water, a hill or an open space.
- Behold your map. Bring your map to the space it represents. Sit and point from things on the map to things in the real space. Identify things you may want to add to your map, and add them if you have some supplies on hand.
Add an imaginary twist! Print out a blank map and welcome your child to design the outdoor space of their dreams. What features would it have? What could you do in that space? What would it feel like, look like, sound like and smell like? What would need to be in the space for all of that to be possible?
Make a map using nature treasures! Rather than paper, use nature treasures like sticks, leaves, tree fruits, flower petals, pebbles and more to lay out a map of your outdoor space on the ground.
Once your map is made, you can hide something in the area, then put a special object on your map to mark where the object is hidden. A friend can use the map to find your hidden object.
Why is this activity great for kids?
Spending time really "studying" a favorite outdoor space can remind children how many things you can discover, even in the most familiar, every day places.
When kids participate in making a map of anything, they develop a wide range of skills. For example, they have to identify what is important in a given space, then put those things into the map in an order that shows their relationships to one another, helping kids learn to make connections and develop spatial awareness. Map making is a wonderfully creative act, too.