Even though many of us view maps on phone apps over paper these days, kids still need good map skills. Fortunately, the same basic concepts apply for virtual and paper maps. Here are some of our favorite engaging map skills activities to teach kids about keys, grids, the compass rose, and more.
(Just a heads up, WeAreTeachers may collect a share of sales from the links on this page. We only recommend items our team loves!)
1. Read a map book
Storytime is the perfect way to introduce new map skills activities to little ones. Here are a few of our favorite books about maps.
2. Introduce map skills activities through imaginative play
Learning about maps comes naturally when kids experiment with them through play. Fill a box with felt roads, rivers, houses, and more. Then let kids build and play in an imaginary town map.
Learn more: The Primary Pack
3. Map out a fairy tale
Read your favorite adventure story and lay out a simple map of the main character’s travels. This is such a cute activity to help young minds explore map skills.
Learn more: Science Sparks
4. Hang a map skills anchor chart
When you’re ready to start tackling map skills in earnest, a colorful anchor chart is a great way to start.
Learn more: Mrs. Call’s Campers
5. Learn to read a map grid
Finding items in a grid is essential for reading paper maps. This simple interactive activity shows kids how it works.
Learn more: Keeping My Kiddos Busy
6. Follow directions through a grid
This map skills game teaches kids to follow directions on a map grid. Lay it out with string or masking tape on the floor, then get into the map!
Learn more: Kids Activities Blog
7. Find your favorite characters’ homes on a map
Make a list of your favorite fictional characters, then find their homes on a map of the world. For some you’ll be able to locate the actual town or city; for others you may have to go with states or countries instead.
Learn more: NutureStore
8. Map your yard or playground
Turn kids into junior cartographers with this popular map skills activity! Kids can do this individually for their own yard or bedroom, or do a giant group map of the school or playground.
Learn more: Tree Valley Academy
9. Put together a map puzzle
Did you know the earliest jigsaw puzzles were actually maps cut into pieces? (It’s true! They were called “dissected maps.”) They’re still fun today. Try one of these favorites, or have kids make their own on the back of a dollar store puzzle for bargain fun!
10. Personalize the cardinal directions
Pick up a set of large wood or cardboard letters for north, south, east, and west. For each letter, personalize it with pictures of things you’d find if you went in that direction from your home or classroom. So cool!
Learn more: Carrots Are Orange
11. Make a salt dough map
Topographical maps are always a lot of fun for kids. Mix up a batch of salt dough, and have them sculpt your state, country, or even continent.
Learn more: We Have Kids
12. Master latitude and longitude with Battleship
Latitude and longitude make the perfect game board for a round of Battleship! Learn how to play at the link.
Learn more: The Room Mom
13. Solve a seek & find challenge
Give kids practice finding locations or landmarks on a map with seek & find challenges. You can do it on your own with a large road map, or check out the book Map It! Seek & Find Atlas of Brainy Challenges.
14. Craft a compass rose collage
Understanding a compass rose is key to mastering map skills. This pretty collage is a crafty way to get to know the cardinal directions.
Learn more: The Classroom Key
15. Bring the compass rose to life
Put the compass rose into practice by drawing one with sidewalk chalk. Then, lay out directional arrows to show the location of buildings or other items.
Learn more: Education.com
16. Practice compass skills with a treasure hunt
Compass skills are the next step up when it comes to maps and way-finding. There’s no cooler way to practice them than a treasure hunt!
Learn more: The Reinert Adventures
17. Go on a Google Maps scavenger hunt
These days, kids are more likely to encounter maps online than on paper. Send them on a journey through Google Maps so they can familiarize themselves with how it works and all its benefits.
Learn more: Erintegration
18. Map out a travel route
Sure, nowadays we usually just map out a route with GPS, but what if your phone dies? It’s still good to be able to map a route by hand with map skills activities like this one.
Learn more: Steamsational
19. Put map skills to use with geocaching
The geocaching fad is still going strong! Learn how it works and ways for kids to participate at the link below.
Learn more: Explore More, Clean Less
20. Build a 3D map of your community
Here’s the ultimate map skills activity: a giant 3D map! Create a 3D map of your local community, or map out a fictional town instead. Either way, it’s so much fun.
Learn more: 1st Grade Learning Stars
Keep the geography fun going with these 13 Unexpected and Fun Geography Lessons To Enhance Your Curriculum.
Plus, here are tips for using Kahoot to host a geography bee in your classroom!