We all form impressions and images of our physical surroundings–even of places we’ve never been. These impressions are what geographers call our “mental maps.” No one has a totally accurate image of the world, so there is no completely accurate mental map, although people’s mental maps of their own immediate environment tend to be more realistic than those of places they’ve never visited.
To explore more about mental mapping, try this activity with your family:
Map Your Community
First, talk about mental maps.
Mental maps are the pictures of places we have in our mind. Think about some of the ways we use mental maps in day-to-day life, for example, when giving directions to visitors or imagining distant places. Talk about times when you have used mental maps, for example, when walking to school, taking a car ride to the grocery store, planning the quickest shortcut to get to friend’s house, or imagining a fantasy world from a novel.
Next, explore different kinds of places in your community and how you feel about them.
Think about places in your community that are important to your family, such as the examples below. Say each example and rate its importance using a scale of 1 to 3, with 1 being unimportant and 3 being very important. Talk about why each is important or unimportant, and why children might disagree about the importance of some places versus others. For example, kids might have different interests (like playing sports or visiting museums, going to the movies or stopping for ice cream).
• a park or other natural place
• a church, synagogue, or mosque
• a museum or arts performance
• a sports game or amusement park
• an airport or bus station
• a shopping mall
Make a map of your community.
After you’ve decided which places are most important to your family, work together to make a map of your community. Try to estimate approximate distances and directions between landmarks, and include a basic scale bar, legend (key), and compass rose marking directions of North, South, East, and West on your map.