Map Skills, by Cheryl


In middle school and high school I had an amazing science teacher. She is one of a few teachers who have had a lifelong impact on my life and the way I teach my children. (The others being my high school drama teacher, a math teacher, an English teacher, and my dance teacher.) This science teacher led a summer class in which she took us to the Wichita Mountains several times during the week. We hiked, we camped, we cooked out, we learned about the plants and wildlife, and had a blast! The skills that I took away from her summer class (and the orienteering course she taught us as a part of 8th grade science) were the ability to read maps of all kinds, and the use of a compass!

I want my kids to have these skills. Instead of teaching at home, I put together a ten-week course for the 7-9 year olds at our co-op. The following is an outline of the course as I taught it. For six weeks we put together a lapbook to help the kids remember what they had learned. Click the links to see the pieces.

Week 1: Types of Maps

Supplies: Box of maps, globe, history or economics book (for informational maps), scissors, tape/glue, folders, lapbook pieces.

Plan: Look at different maps. What are they for? How are they used? When would you use them? Look at the globe, find the North and South Poles and the Equator, and point out lines of latitude and longitude. Learn to use map coordinates. Look at an atlas. Find cities on a map. Give directions from a map. Make lapbook pieces.

Lapbook Pieces: Cover and Types of Maps

Week 2: Using Keys and Legends

Supplies: Box of maps, globe, history book (for informational maps), scissors, tape/glue, folders, lapbook pieces.

Plan: What does a legend tell you? Identify points of interest from the legend. Learn how to use a map scale.


Week 3: Compass

Supplies: Cork, magnet, paperclips, pans for water, red sharpie, real compass(es), maps, lap books and pieces.

Plan: What is a compass? Find compass points on map. Use a compass to find north. Make a compass.

Lapbook Pieces: Compass, Pocket, and Activity Sheet


Week 4: Early Navigation and Explorers

Supplies: Books on Marco Polo, Magellan, Balboa, Livingston; lap books and pieces; straws, plastic cups, thumb tacks, pencils, construction paper

Plan: Study early navigation tools (land and sea), hints in nature ( sun, stars, etc.), famous explorers.

Lapbook Pieces: Constellations, Early Navigation, and Famous Explorers


Week 5: Latitude and Longitude

Supplies: Globe, lapbook pieces and books, protractors, straws, string, paperclips

Plan: What are latitude and longitude? Find important lines on a map and a globe. Make an astrolabe.

Lapbook Pieces: Astrolabe, Lat and Long, World Map


Week 6: Sundials

Supplies: stick, paper, pencils

Plan: How can a sundial help navigators? Make a sundial outside and check it at least twice.

Lapbook Pieces: Sundial, Finding North

Week 7: What is Scale?

Supplies: yard stick, ruler, measuring tape, graph paper

Plan: Measure student paces (steps). Pace off the length of the room. Calculate actual size based on steps. Use a yard stick, ruler, or measuring tape to measure and map the entire room to scale.

Activity: Map the room and all furniture in it.

Week 8: Map the Building

Supplies: measuring tape, graph paper

Plan: Break into groups and measure the interior of the building, work together to create a full map of the building.

Activity: Create a map of the building to use for treasure hunts later. (We were doing this section of the class in November. Had it been spring and warm, we would have mapped the outside of the building for the treasure hunt.)

Week 9: Following Maps

Supplies: coffee, white paper, bowls, cookie sheets, hair dryers

Plan: Talk about using the compass and landmarks to orient yourself with a map and make pirate maps.

Activity: Make a Pirate Map! Tear the edges of the paper and crumple it up to look old. Soak the paper in coffee. Carefully remove paper and lay it flat on the cookie sheet. Use the hair dryers to dry the paper more quickly. Draw a pirate map. Include all elements of a good map – legend/key, compass points, and scale. (With younger students, you can soak and dry the paper before class, then let them draw their maps.)

Week 10: Treasure Hunt

Supplies: 2 maps, 2 treasure chests, 2 sets of clues

Plan: Follow the map, collect the clues, and find the treasure!

I over planned a little bit for our group. Cutting and pasting did not go as quickly as I had planned, and the couple of things that needed to be handwritten really slowed us down. We ended up cutting out some of the explorers section to make up for time. Once I finished making the lapbook, this class was easy to teach! Most of what we did came from my memory of what I learned in middle school and my hands on experience with maps in high school at various summer camps. Here are a couple of books that would be helpful for someone not as experienced with maps and navigation:

Tools of Navigation by Rachel Dickinson- This is a great introduction for kids. I found some fun activities in it. It also prompted me to add a day of history into our study (the day on Navigators). I just wish we had had more time that day!

Be Expert with Map and Compass by  Bjorn Kjellstrom – This looks like another good resource for brushing up on some skills. I do not have this book, but it was on my short list as I was making purchases.

Orienteering Made Simple And Instructional Handbook by Nancy Kelly – I picked this up to help brush up on my orienteering skills. I did not do as much orienteering as I had originally wanted, but we did the basics. This gave me a good reminder of what all orienteering entailed.

Teaching Orienteering, Second Edition by Carol McNeill – This helped me decide what skills would be best to teach the group I had. The book breaks the skills up into age levels.

With the availability of GPS navigators in cars and on phones, kids don’t see the need to learn to read an actual map. I do believe it is still a valuable skill. I hope this plan makes it a less daunting task for some who have not had the training I was given.


Cheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taughtcheryl ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

Teaching World Geography to Younger Students

by Jane-Emily

When my oldest daughter was in kindergarten, I wanted to do something fun that would get her ready for world history in first grade.  I had already planned to use Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World series in 1st-4th grade, and I love travel and learning about other countries!  So I planned out a year of world geography for a five-year-old.  I did not use any packaged curriculum; the ones I had seen had a strong emphasis on Protestant missionary work and that was not my focus.

I bought two books:

I also put a world map and a map of the USA in the hall.  Everything else I checked out from the library.  It hardly cost a thing.

I planned for thirty weeks by choosing thirty countries or regions of the world with the atlas as a help: Scandinavia, West Africa, Japan/Korea, and so on.  I also made a little passport, just a little booklet with heavy blue paper for a cover and a bunch of plain white pages, sewn together with heavy thread.  I put a fancy gold seal on the front (it said “Home Made Candies” but who cares?). On the inside cover I put a picture of my daughter and her basic information, just like in a real passport.  I ruled lines on the pages, dividing each one in half, and labeled the sections with country names.

With my master list in hand, I visited the library each week and checked out a few books about the upcoming topic.  This is very easy to do: Just go to the non-fiction section of the children’s room, look for the early 900s, and you will see shelves of books about other countries arranged geographically.  Many of these are part of “countries of the world”-type series for older children doing country reports, and can be handy for you to look through for recipes or other information. You’ll also find books to actually read to your young child, often “kids in other lands”-type books or maybe some neat history.  Those are fun.

The other books I looked for were folk and fairy tale collections for each region of the world.  Libraries usually collect lots of folk tales, and these are found in the 398 section of the non-fiction collection.  They are not arranged geographically, so you must search in the catalog for specific topics: Just type “folk tales Caribbean” or whatever you’re looking for, and something will probably come up.  You could also find books about world religions in the 290s; there are many good books for young children with the “I am a Hindu” sort of theme.  World holiday books are good resources too (early 390s).

Each week, we wodkchildrenuld start with the atlas and the Children Just Like Me book.  We would read about one or more children, find their homeland in the atlas and talk about what it would be like to live there–not for a very long time, we are talking about 10-15 minutes here.  Later in the week, we would read a story or a folktale (or three or four).  And later again, we would cook something yummy, play dress-up or a game, or otherwise try something fun and new.  I am still cooking the spinach and egg recipe we made for Greece!  We did this three days per week, and most of that time was spent on folktales, play, or cooking.

At the end of each week, we would fill out our passport to show that we had ‘visited’ the country.  I collected stamps when I was younger and I have my collection stashed away in my closet, so we would raid it for good postage stamps and stick them in.  You could also draw something, print pictures, or just find a cool rubber stamp to use.

This plan worked very well for my older daughter’s kindergarten year.  We had a lot of fun and she got plenty of ideas for imaginative play.  In particular, one girl who lived in the Amazon jungle attracted her, and for months she would play that she lived in the Amazon.  Even now, she remembers many of the activities we did.

When my younger daughter’s turn came, I actually did this plan for first grade while her older sister did modern history in our four-year cycle, so that they could start ancient history together the next year.  She insisted on a purple passport, and again we had a very good year learning about the world.

Jajane-emilyne-Emily homeschools two daughters in California.  She is a librarian who loves to quilt and embroider, and she’s a Bollywood addict.  Her favorite author is Diana Wynne Jones. She blogs about reading at Howling Frog Books.