“Maps encourage boldness. They’re like cryptic love letters. They make anything seem possible.”

― Mark Jenkins

When I met Matthew, he was a cartographer on the island of St. John in the Virgin Islands. I was a travel lover who could get lost anywhere. He’s my compass rose. His degree is in geography and he has so many mapping stories about caves, mountains and rivers. So he is totally in charge of Geography lessons during our weird 2020 homeschool / virtual school year. Oli and Milo are doing home school with our main curriculum from Blossom and Root.  Piper is doing virtual school, and is taking AP Human Geography this year. So we can use a geography tutor for our big kid and little kids. 

One advantage of homeschooling and virtual learning is the ability to take your learning anywhere, even the car. Map skills are life-long skills that help develop an understanding of maps, directions, compass points, problem-solving, and critical thinking. Always remember, not all classrooms have four walls.

All you need for this is a good map. For younger children, a smaller, local map will do. For older children, a larger map is fine.

For younger children, you might want to consider the following:

 Use a simple, smaller map.

  – Use a simpler map, or make a map yourself. Plot out only a few routes you most commonly go (to the store, the library, the way to a friend’s house).

 Look before you go

  – Before you leave, look at the map with your child and talk about how you get there.

Talk it out

  – As you drive, talk about what you are doing and where you are (“We are turning right on Avenue N. Now we are passing railroad tracks…now we are passing Peach St.)

 Make guesses

  – Have your children guess which way you are going to go. For example, tell them, “When we get to Oak St. we will go north. Do you think that will be a left or right turn?” Or vice versa. Either way, it can help a younger child learn left/right better and introduce the compass directions (north, south, east, west).

For older children, this can become more involved.

 Use a more complicated map.

  – An expanded map is a good challenge. Talk about what they see on the map. Go over map symbols, how to tell the difference between minor and major streets, and other landmarks. Review compass directions on a map.

Have them follow as you drive

  – Let them follow your course on the map. Tell them, “We are passing Park Place now. What is the next street?”. Just like with younger children, talk it out. Only let them do more of the talking this time!

Let them navigate

  – Plan a simple outing, like a grocery store or a park. Help them find it on the map. Then, settle into the driver’s seat and let them give you directions. Go that way even if it is wrong (but, please do not go the wrong way down a one-way street or anything!).

Kids love to be in charge. Maps can give them that sense of power and develop life-long skills. So, take your school on the road!

Map Skills and Homeschooling Blog 2021

Have fun exploring the infinite abyss!

We love this big bright book about Maps. It’s vintage feeling with amazing art!

Related: National Geographic has so many educational resources for kids and map skills! Start here.