Sunday, 9 February 2014

Playing with maps

exploring the bronze high-relief map of Edinburgh City Centre
We love maps.  Doesn't everybody?  Apparently not, and apparently it's related to gender.  The Mail is not a news outlet that I take seriously, in fact I tend to go with the principle that if they are printing it then it's dubious, but I came across an article today suggesting that "spatial intelligence is seriously affected by the female hormone oestrogen".  I don't believe this for a second, and I think there are many other reasons why "women go in for occupations which do not require a high level of spatial skill".
However, during my time as a Primary School Teacher I found that when it came to teaching geography or history, many seven year olds had little or no experience of looking at maps, and so it was important to start right from scratch with them.
We're not talking about becoming proficient map-readers and navigators before they start school, but there's no reason why children shouldn't be exposed to maps of different kinds and have some basic map literacy.  Here are a few ideas:

  •  Give them your old road atlas.  When you're planning a holiday, or after you've been, show them where it is on the map.  What do you think this blue bit is?  What about the yellow?  Here's our campsite, look we drove along that road.  Can you see where the railway line goes right by the road, we could see it from our car?  Show them where Grandma and Grandad live - look it's near the sea, we have to drive all this way to get there.
  • Look at bus route  maps, and train line maps on your journeys (freely available from most transport hubs) and point out the stops that you are passing and where they are on the plan.
  • Pick up town maps (usually pictorial) from the tourist office of your own town or places that you're visiting, and use them to see places of interest and find your way around.  Theme parks also usually have these.
  • Go on Google Earth or other mapping/satellite software and show how you can zoom in from a map of the world, to just one country (seeing more detail), to just part of a country (more detail still), to a street map of a town.
  • Make a simple map of your street, showing where people live.  You can either just mark on which house is which, or you can draw the houses.
  • Hide treasure in the garden and draw a simple treasure map.
  • Make a map of a walk.  You can map out any navigational features, but also places that might be of interest to the children.  We have a map of one of our favourite walks showing "secret den", "Ava's stream", "where we built the pixie houses".
  • Postman Pat books, and Topsy and Tim books have simple maps of their respective villages on their inside covers, it's nice to relate the story to the map, and also to ask the children which way the characters might go to the shop for example.
It's all about relating what they see around to them to what symbols and lines they see on a map, and vice versa.  It's not something that one gender can do better than another (Excuse me Mail Online, but I'm definitely a woman, and I am extremely capable with a map), it's something that everybody can do if they are given opportunity and enthusiasm.  What could be more magical than poring over a map and visualising what you see?

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