Get Out With The Kids – How To Teach Kids Map Reading

Map reading is an essential outdoor skill. Sorry. I’ll correct that. Landscape reading is an essential skill (more on that later).

With GPS devices prevalent these days, you may have older kids with a GPS device built into their phone.  Unfortunately, without understanding maps, all they learn with a GPS is to walk from point A to point B…. as per the device’s instructions.
Give them a large map and they’re lost.

Here are some tips on how to introduce your child to map reading.

Put the Compass Away
Don’t start them with the compass.

Yes, you could give a compass to young kids, who will like trying to get the needle to move, but this is a distraction from learning to map read.

Compass navigation skills come later once your child has a good understanding of maps.  I would recommend that this is done in conjunction with GPS devices (if they are familiar with GPS devices), as you can easily relate what they are familiar with with the non-technical equivalent.

Start with a Smaller Map
The Ordnance Survey produces great maps.  However, they can be big and unwieldy.  Shrink yourself down to kid size and it’s like trying to read wall paper.

Rather than buying lots of expensive maps, you could use OS getamap (read our review here), print out a small map section, and stick it in a document wallet (a lot cheaper than a map reading case).

Teach Map Symbols
A map is nothing more than squiggles and symbols.  Teach some basic symbols before going outside.

map symbol bingo can be a fun way of teachingclick here to download

You need to teach map skills in stages.  Don’t do it all in one go as you’ll just overwhelm them and they won’t learn as well.

Plan ahead an area for their first map reading navigation, and only teach the symbols relevant for that walk.

Here’s the sort of thing to teach:

  1. How roads are shown on the map
  2. What footpaths look like
  3. Streams and rivers
  4. Wooded areas
  5. Contour lines (see below)

If you have more time, map symbol bingo can be a fun way of teaching. (Click here to download our free Map Symbol Bingo game). We also have a few more resources, including a Map Symbol Quiz in our Family Navigation course.

How to Crack Contour Lines
pick a way of explaining that works for your child
Contour lines can be very confusing.  At this stage, you need to explain the theory behind them.  When you get outside you solidify that understanding with what they see around them.

Each child is different so you’ll need to pick a way of explaining that works for your child.  Get across that the lines are showing how the hill is sliced up.

Here’s a suggestion for helping to explain contour lines …

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