Educator Spotlight: Introducing Maps to Little Kids

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Lisa Carpentier is a kindergarten teacher at Mentone Elementary School in Mentone, California. Lisa has been teaching for 22 years.

Photo by Megan McClain

Lesson Name: Introducing Maps to Little Kids

Tell us about your activity. What did you need to prepare and how long did it take?

I began by asking students what a map was and what it was used for. We showed a short video and looked at a selection of maps, including road maps and park maps, to get them thinking.

Finally, we mapped our own classroom along with our routes to the playground and cafeteria. We made a legend of two different colors to show the two routes. We also discussed how today’s maps are just a button away on our phones!

The activity took about an hour, and we had to prepare worksheets for mapping the classroom and school, identify an age-appropriate video, and choose a selection of example maps. It was fun to work with a student’s mother, Megan McClain, who brought her GIS expertise to the lesson.

Describe the student impact of this lesson. Was there a change in your students’ thought processes, behaviors, or perspectives?

Students seemed to have a solid knowledge base about maps and their uses, but it was still a challenge for them to make their own.

I asked them to imagine themselves as flies on the ceiling looking down, and that literal shift in perspective was enlightening. We also practiced translating information from a map to our physical space. I projected a map onto the board, pointed to spots in the room, and asked students to walk to those locations. That new way of thinking was fun for them.

Any advice for educators who want to help students become global and interdisciplinary thinkers?

My students are only in kindergarten, but it’s never too early to encourage them to think about life outside of their small world.

For younger kids, it helps to begin with what they know. We mapped their most familiar spaces and practiced using the language of location to describe those places. But in the same lesson, we looked at maps of larger places, and we discussed the omnipresence of maps in smart phones. The hope is that students will begin to recognize patterns outside of the classroom and their understanding of the broader world will grow.

Hey, teachers! Want to do this in your classroom?

Check out our Mapping the Classroom activity page and feel free to mix and match the great ideas there with Lisa’s cool tactics. You can reward kids at the end of a map lesson by challenging them to use their new skills in a treasure hunt. Hide toys or candy in different places throughout the room and point to places on the map to give students clues.

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The Educator Spotlight series features inspiring activities and lessons that educators are implementing with their students that connect them to the world in bold and exciting ways.

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