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The Importance of Map Reading Skills for Kids

Home > Sydney > Fun for Children | Fun Things To Do
by Jenny Hatton Mahon (subscribe)
Weekends are about freedom, exploring and fun... and that's worth writing about.
Published September 8th 2013
Out with the Apps and In with the Maps
Are map reading skills becoming extinct as a result of reliance on travel and GPS style apps? Even if they are, does it really matter?

Earlier this month, the article on Tips for Teaching Kids how to use Public Transport, generated some comments about the importance of teaching kids to read maps rather than relying on apps. As it was validly pointed out, not all kids have mobile phones with navigation apps and so basic map reading skills are still considered to be relevant.

So, how important is map reading? According to educational psychologists, it's very important as map interpretation combines reading and mathematics skills and helps build spatial sense and visual literacy – each of these skills being relevant in our daily lives.

Richard Louv has written a book on the subject, The Nature Principle, which highlights the importance of people being able to balance high technology and natural knowledge. Natural knowledge is having an awareness of where you are and where you're going. Louv believes that children are lacking spatial awareness because they're driven or walked to school and their other daily activities without ever having to find their own bearings.


Mapping; Maps; Kids; Fun; Learning; Navigation; Orienteering; Skills
Get out the Gregory's: one of Australia's trusted street directories


To promote the orienteering spirit in our house over the weekend, it was out with the apps and in with the maps. To get the kids engaged, we devised a competition, "Mission Immapable", which involved:

drawing a map from memory
creating symbols to help identify landmarks
including a map legend and compass
using the map to get to the chosen destination.

The kids were quick to tell me that they knew what a compass was and recited the cardinal directions as "Never Eat Soggy Weetbix". When I was at school, in the olden days, it was "New Elephants Sell Well."

As the school fair was being held during the weekend and we would be walking there, we decided to draw a map of the neighbourhood which included our house, the school and surrounding area.

The drawing occupied the kids for most of the morning and the resulting map was a decent effort for novice cartographers. It had areas of green, footpaths and roads, crossings and traffic lights in the right places. The major landmark, with a perfectly reproduced drawing of the "golden arches" logo, was the local McDonald's restaurant! Within the school campus they had drawn symbols for the football ground, canteen, toilet blocks, library, hall, classrooms and the principal's office (oh dear, how often are they sent there?).

Map finished, we started our walk and the kids pointed out where we were and corrected a few things that they'd gotten wrong. We reached the school gates at which point I suggested they head off to find their friends, telling them to meet me at the sweets and treats stall at 2.30pm. With a panicked look, they said they didn't know where that was so I handed them the detailed fair map (kindly printed by the P&C) and told them I was confident they were ready to navigate their own way.


Mapping; Maps; Kids; Fun; Learning; Navigation; Orienteering; Skills
Maps v Apps: Map reading skills help to develop kids' spatial sense and visual literacy


At the allotted time, two satisfied explorers and their friends headed in my direction, sausage sandwiches in one hand and fairy floss in the other.

At the end of the day, I felt gratified that the kids had demonstrated a good basic understanding of mapping and gained some new skills. But how would they go if they got lost somewhere unfamiliar? Getting lost is not uncommon in the bushland and remote areas of Australia and knowing how to find your way to safety is critical.

With this in mind, we're now looking at doing a bush exploration walk just outside Sydney with an orienteering group that offers instruction on bush navigation for kids. This way, they'll develop a better appreciation of maps and won't have to rely on apps to find their way home… or to the closest McDonald's.
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Why? Because kids shouldn't need to be told where to go
Your Comment
Congrats on a great article and your interview. When I was a kid, it was Never Eat Shredded Wheat (UK cereal). Whatever helps it to stick in their heads.
by Helenonthesofa (score: 2|661) 3300 days ago
Great article Jenny, well written and so very true. Congrats on your interview!
by Paula McManus (score: 3|3790) 3300 days ago
A thought-provoking article and an informative and professional interview. Congratulations, well done.
by MaggieVP (score: 2|621) 3300 days ago
Great job Jenny and awesome news about the interview. We really are reliant on Satnav these days. I know I use Google maps for everything and I have been out in regional VIC when the reception drops out (on your phone) and boom! Map time.
Love the name 'Mission Immapable' - so clever and a great way to educate kids in a fun way.
by Leona (Devaz) Fensome (score: 2|129) 3299 days ago
Thanks Jenny, in the school holidays (Sep 24) the kids may be interested in this orienteering for kids activity:
by pandm (score: 0|2) 3430 days ago
Yes I agree! Such a valuable life skill! A few times I have relied totally on my GPS and thought 'were am I going?' not visualising on a map exactly were I was going was daunting! Now I always keep a street directory in the car so I can use the 'old fashioned' way!
by bandi (score: 1|16) 3315 days ago
You're very kind, Maggie. Much appreciated.
by Jenny Hatton Mahon (score: 2|292) 3300 days ago
Thanks Paula. Much appreciated.
by Jenny Hatton Mahon (score: 2|292) 3300 days ago
You're very kind Maggie. Appreciate your comment.
by Jenny Hatton Mahon (score: 2|292) 3300 days ago
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