Fun With Maps- Mapping Activities For Kids

Cover Image Mapping Activities for Kids- two boys reading a map

Mapping is a great way to help your students understand space and relationships. Making maps helps students to notice their environment and observe the elements that make up that space. Map making also helps children develop their spatial thinking skills. In a time where everyone relies on Google Maps or GPS to help them navigate from space to space, we are starting to lose our ability to read our space and understand it. These mapping activities for kids are designed to help reacquaint students with their learning space while simultaneously helping them to gain skills in map making and map reading. Map-making can help you cover your curriculum, while simultaneously helping your students to build a connection with their learning space.

Note: Whenever studying maps it is important to acknowledge the traditional territories that you are on. You can also discuss the biases of the map makers and discuss what they chose to include in the map and whose voice is missing from the map. 

a child holding a simple map

Mapping Activities for Younger Students​

1. Play Maps​

I love to incorporate maps and map-making into my kindergarten free play or exploration time. It is a great way to engage their creativity and record some of their thinking. When doing this, I try to build on the child’s own play ideas and will often help them with scribing. I make a point to display the map in the play area as well to encourage the student to come back to this idea and further build on it. Some examples include:

  • The bear spotting map- this evolved from an ongoing play theme of a bear in the kitchen
  • Map of the lego town
  • Map to find the treasure (hidden in a lego ship)
  • Lost puppy map- again based on an ongoing play theme

Another thing I like to do is include old maps in the different play areas. Not only does this introduce the students to maps, but it also helps them to understand the many different ways that we use reading and literacy in our everyday lives. 

2. Classroom Maps​

Having maps in your classroom to refer to is a great way to build awareness of different countries, continents, and cities around the world and their relative positions to each other. In our indoor classroom we have both a world map and a country map posted. Whenever we read a story about a different place in the world or discuss the origins of something, we locate it on either a world map or a country map. This helps the students to understand different locations around the world in relation to their own home. It also gently eases young students into using maps as a way of showing where things are relative to one another.

3. Mapping the Learning Space​

Allowing your students to create maps of their learning space is an excellent introduction to map making skills. Students create a map of either their indoor learning space or their outdoor learning space. It helps students to visualize their environment and learn how different areas are related to each other. This works best if you start with an outline of the space and then students can fill in important aspects from the classroom. 

Once students have the general idea of creating maps you can build on their maps through having them create treasure maps or give directions on how to find something. 

a boy reading a map on the floor

4. Story Maps​

This activity requires a bit more creativity and imagination. The maps created in this activity are entirely fictional but they allow students to sequence events from the story. In this activity we would map the events of a story in an imagined version of the story location. For example, if we were mapping a story like “Little Red Riding Hood,” we might create the map in the forest. We would then place all of the events from the story on this map of the forest. 

5. Inquiry Maps​

Why not incorporate maps into your inquiry unit. Depending on what you are studying, maps could be used in a number of ways. For example, as a class you could map all of the places that you find insects for example. Or maybe map the best places in the learning space to find spiders. You can mark things on a pre-existing map or make your own map. 

6. Find my Bear (or whatever other object you want to use.)​

This is a more structured activity that I would only introduce once students feel comfortable with the concepts of mapping. In this activity students would hide an object in the learning space then create a map showing a friend where to find it. Students would then exchange maps and see if they can find the other persons object. I like to use the little bears from our math counters to do this as it provides a just right level of challenge for the students. 

3 children looking at a treasure map

Mapping Activities for Older Students​

1. Photo Maps​

Making photo maps is one of my favorite things to do when studying an ecosystem or a community. It can be done as either a collaborative class project, or an individual or small group project.  In making photo maps, students explore the area using a camera or phone/tablet. They take photos based on the given criteria. The photos are then printed off and the student uses them to create a map or visual representation of the space. I have used photo maps for both social studies units (for example, studying the services and buildings in our town) and science units (documenting the location of different species or showing biodiversity.)

More ideas for nature photography with students can be found here!

2. Science/Social Studies Themed Maps​

Integrating maps into your social studies or science lessons is something that most teachers are likely familiar with. It is an easy way to integrate some of the curriculum into your outdoor education units. However, have you ever had your students actually study the maps and think critically about the location of different things. So often we present our students with maps and then don’t teach them how to actually look at the map and ask questions about it. 

In looking at well-made maps and studying the maps with guiding questions or their own inquiry-based questions, students can gain a better understanding of the location of different things and how it impacts our life. For example, students can study the migratory pathways of different animals and see how their paths are affected by dangers along the way. Or in studying the location of cities, it might be interesting to map those in relation to the availability of water. 

3. Map Tracing​

Again, this type of map exploration could be used for many different learning purposes. In this activity, students need to trace the origins or destinations of a given topic on the map. For example, students could explore the origins of water sources and trace where they end up. Or perhaps they might trace the migration path of different animals. Through tracing the students develop a sense of how everything is interrelated and gain an understanding of things such as how an activity “upstream” can affect others “downstream.” This could be especially valuable in tracing the environmental impacts of something or human impacts on an ecosystem.

two boys reading a map

4. Topographical Maps​

Topographical maps are really cool and help students to understand the geography and contours of the land they are exploring. Topographical maps can be introduced to students to teach them about the geography of an area and really help them to see how the land shapes the environment, climate, settlement, and so many other things in an area. 

If you are going on a trip somewhere, why not share the topographical map of the area with your students. If it is an outdoor trip you might want to share your route with them and discuss why you choose that route. It can really help students to get an understanding of the space and orient them as to where they are going. 

5. Map Comparisons​

Our own biases as well as historical biases (and racist ideologies) shape the way that we make maps. A great activity for older students is to compare different maps. For example, you might explore a historical map and a modern map to see what is different. Or another example might be comparing the borders of traditional indigenous territories to country and provincial boundaries. This can be an excellent springboard for discussion and inquiry into biases, history, and so many other concepts. 

Questions for Map Inquiry…​

No matter how you choose to introduce maps to your students, you can create engagement through including inquiry and critical thinking. This is in no ways an exhaustive list of questions for map making/reading but could be used as a starting point for your exploration. Also understanding who made the map can help students to understand bias and how different people see the world in different ways. 

  • Who made this map? Do you think they have a bias towards/against something? 
  • What was important to the map maker?
  • What do you think is missing from this map?
  • Who do you think is missing from this map?
  • What would you have put on this map?
  • What does the map show us about the people, animals, species, etc. in this area?
  • What does this map show us about relationships between the land and people?
  • Does the way the map is illustrated teach us anything about the space?
  • Are there parts of the map that you find confusing?
  • What would you like to know more about?

Now Get Mapping!​

Mapping skills are a great way to help your students gain an awareness of their surroundings. Through mapping activities, students can start to see how different things are connected to ech other or can have an effect on other things. You don’t need to be an expert on mapping yourself, you just need to show some excitement and passion towards maps. Let your students dive into inquiry or making their own maps. Maps can be a great starting point for important cultural or environmental discussions. They can also be a great way to getting your students to really see and understand their learning space. Finally find ways to take these mapping activities outside and help your students to really get to know their community and the environment around them. 

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