Traveling a long distance is an ideal time to teach your children how to read a map. Everyone travels at some point. I personally love to travel by car, as half the fun is in the getting there. We have so many fond memories not only of places we visited but the experiences we had while getting there. In the age of GPS at your fingertips, map reading has become less important in some circles. After a recent cross-country trip where the GPS was less than reliable, I would certainly disagree that map reading isn’t important.
Since we are traveling, it is so much easier to hide that it is a teachable moment. For some kids, especially those with autism, traveling is supposed to be down time, so they may balk at an actual lesson. I strive to teach my children that learning happens everywhere. They see this when I add these excursions to their portfolios and count them as school. I have heard on many an occasion, “Wow! We get credit for doing that? But it was fun!”
Print maps for each child to plot out the route from home to the destination. Mark the route on the map with pen or marker. Tape them in the area where the child is sitting (for us, this is on the seat in front of theirs). This makes it easy for the child to follow along if they like to see how far we are or how far we still need to go.
“Are we there yet?” gets answered with the mile marker number and the state we are in. The child has already been instructed, when plotting the map, how to find these on their map. A refresher is given, if needed. This is easiest when the mile markers are counting down to the next state. Interesting fact: it takes 880 miles to get through Texas on I-10. Not once did I need to answer, “Are we out of Texas yet?”
“I have to pee soon!” is answered with “Tell me where the next rest area is located!” Just like the previous idea, the child already knows how to find these. Usually, a refresher lesson is needed only a few times. Practice makes perfect.
If you have time to spare, let the child map out a fun excursion that happens en route. It could be the world’s largest ball of yarn, or perhaps a silo painted like a minion. This reinforces map skills, plus has the added benefit of making the child feel his desires are important as well. I want to impart to my children that if it’s important to them, I make it important to me.
In the end, it boils down to this: the more exposure the child gets to maps, the better he can read them. Some kids take a lot of exposure before they get the concept. The goal isn’t to grasp the concept on the first try, but to give the child a functional knowledge of how to read a map without using GPS. In the age of technology, it’s a great skill to possess to keep your child safe.
Want to learn another fun way to teach map reading? Check out these posts: