A major social studies standard for younger children is to understand maps and why we use them. Students are asked to explain the difference between maps and globes. Students are also expected to identify, with support, their town and their school. Also, students should be able to use maps and create maps to show the location of important places in their neighborhoods or schools. So how do we teach all of these skills?
Maps in the Classroom
Children should be exposed to maps and other geography tools throughout the year, rather than just while teaching geography. For example, I put my globe in dramatic play, which is also next to the block center. These two highly trafficked areas are often reaching for the globe to see where they could go next. I’ve also included maps in the library so that as children are reading and looking at books, they can find these places on the map.
In the library I strive to have books that represent all different parts of the world. An easy place to find books like this are non-fiction books, fairy tales, alphabet books, and story books about schools. These books help spark interested in learning about other places and opening students up to the idea that the world is full of many different communities that have similarities and differences from their community.
Learning Through Play
Play is always the best place to start with children – especially to expose them to maps and the purpose of maps. As I mentioned, I have a globe in the dramatic play center and right next to the block area. The children regularly use these in their play to spark different storylines. I also include some examples of famous buildings from around the world in the block area to inspire their block building.
One really fun dramatic play center to encourage geography is an explore the world center. I wrote about it in detail in a previous blog post. The children love looking at the maps and globe to decide where in the world they will travel to.
In the block area, I often encourage students to draw a map of their creations. Sometimes they draw the map in the planning stages and sometimes they draw it after building everything. Often they create communities and cities and a map is the perfect way to preserve their creation forever.
Another really fun, playful way to spark interest in maps and geography is my holidays around the world unit that I do in December. As I explain in a previous blog post, I give every student a passport and we color in flags and symbols for each of the country we visit. I usually combine this unit with a post office dramatic play center and this year my students were fascinated by flags of other countries. They wanted to research and look up other flags and drew them on our postcards we were “sending” in the post office.
Starting Mapping with ourselves
When teaching about maps and geography explicitly, it is really important to start the learning with the students themselves. They will learn better if the geography is centered around their lives and their communities. It is hard to visualize maps of communities you have never been to, especially for our young children who have only had a few years of life experience.
I love to do a Me on the Map activity that is based off the book Me on the Map by Joan Sweeney. I wrote about it a previous blog post. This project is also a great way for students to identify the elements of their address, another social studies standard for kindergarten.
These are my favorite books when learning about mapping. For your convenience I have linked them to my Amazon affiliate store.
And books about communities:
- Be My Neighbor by Maya Ajmera and John Ivanko
- Places in My Community by Bobbie Kalman
- My Neighborhood by Lisa Marie Bullard
I also recommend trying out Google Earth because you can see how the communities go from the earth to the continent to the country to the state to the town and neighborhood.
BrainPop Jr (a paid resource) has several videos on different types of communities, continents and oceans, and reading maps.
Mapping and geography are key social studies standards in the younger grades and they are best taught through play and in exposure around the room. When explicitly teaching geography, it is best to start with the children and their communities before expanding to larger communities and communities around the world.
How do you like to include maps and geography in your classroom?