Why Teach Your Kids Map-Reading Skills?

Why Teach Your Kids Map-Reading Skills?

I’m a cartophile. There. I’ve said it. What’s a cartophile? A lover of maps. I’ve admired maps since I was young. I study maps before any road trip or vacation. And I have a secret. My kids are becoming cartophiles also. During road trips, I turn the road atlas over to the kids for them to navigate. I’m unashamed of teaching them how to read a map in our high tech world of GPS and smart phones. Here’s why it is essential to teach your kids map-reading skills.

Kids Learn Basic Geography Skills from Map Reading

You’ve heard it said that the next generation doesn’t know which way is up. Unfortunately, this is literally true. The next generation has lost basic geography skills. After all, who needs to know how to find north or east on the map when your car is loaded with a directional feature? Our kids have watched the lighted upper corner of my rear view mirror change from S to SE with fascination.

Kids must learn basic geography map reading. Not only do they learn the ordinal directions on a map, but they also learn where they are in this wide world.

Kids Learn Math from Map Reading

I know you’ve heard the eternal road trip question – Are we there yet? It’s followed by the second most cumbersome road trip question: How much longer until we get there?

Today, when my kids ask these questions, I hand them a map. Actually, they sometimes need a little roadside help with this too with the assistance of a mileage marker. The road atlas lists the miles between certain locations. The kids count up those miles. Looking at the speedometer, they can tell how fast we’re driving and guess how long until we reach our destination. It’s what I do in my head. So why not give them an opportunity to practice some math skills while on the road.

Kids Learn the Meaning of Map Symbols

Teach Kids to Read a Mao

Will we travel over a mountain pass? Can we spot a lake during our drive? Are we traveling on an interstate or a country road? Is it a paved or a dirt road? These are some of the things kids can learn as they decipher the map’s symbols.

Don’t think this is a big deal? Consider how many times you must decipher a legend or key in your life. Everything from currency to hiking trails utilize symbols. It’s a skill we often take for granted. Every smart phone is equipped with emoticons. So maybe my kids are better at deciphering symbols than me. Still, it’s important to identify and understand symbols.

Kids Can Find Their Way When Tech Dies

Ever run out of battery on your cell phone when you need it most? Or have you been unable to connect to WiFi when you need it?

We use our phones to navigate. In fact, When I’m looking for a location, I’ll enter the address into my smart phone, hand it to one of the kids, and have them navigate to the location.

But, when you cannot use a phone, or iPad, or GPS, you need a Plan B. Knowing how to read a map is our plan B. I hand the kids a map and they guide me to the location. When do I need to turn? Will I turn left or right? Is my location on a major road or intersection? The kids learn how to read the map. In the future, they can find their way to a destination when technology fails them.

GPS Is Unreliable for Some Destinations

Teach Kids to Read a Map

Have you ever Googled an address, entered it into your GPS and found your technology leading you to the wrong destination. It happens. Sometimes the address is a mailing address. Other times your location may be off of most maps. Or it is a newer location that is not yet recognized. During these times, knowing how to read a map is important.

For example, Hovenweep National Monument is a U.S. National Park Site on the Colorado and Utah border. Getting there is tricky because you will travel on many back roads and dirt roads not recorded by GPS. Looking at the Hovenweep website, you find these statements under the directions: “Do not use GPS to find your way. There are numerous paved and dirt roads intersecting each other in this remote corner of Utah. GPS units may lead you astray. Use a map instead.”

On some of our trips using GPS we have been led to a site which is blocked to traffic. Once, we went to a site using GPS only to find that the parking area for the site was five miles away (and you were bused in to the site). When searching for another National Park Visitor’s Center, GPS led us to a private home in a back alley. We needed to use our map reading skills in each of these circumstances to find the correct, or alternate, route.

If your kids can read a map, they’ll be far better equipped to deal with these detours.

What’s the Harm?

Kids Read Maps

Can you see a downside to teaching kids map-reading skills? We cannot think of anything. At the worst, your kids might develop a skill that they never put in to use. However, it’s likely they will find a time or two when they use those skills. Maybe they will be able to help you navigate in a new-to-you city or to a remote, off-the-beaten-path locale.

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