Child geography - Maps represent the real world. Young children won't fully understand maps until they are much older. However, without a foundation from their own experiences, children will not develop into successful map readers or users when they are older. Personal experience helps children understand maps and how they use symbols, which can be introduced to children when they are quite young.
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Before children can learn to use maps, they must understand that maps are tools to help us find where we are and where we are going. They need to know that maps and globes use other symbols and the concept of scale. They are pictures from a "bird's eye view," and reduce the size of an actual place.
- Toddlers can't use maps. But they can become familiar with the idea that maps help people locate themselves in space. Just as they know that books have symbols that represent words, they can understand that maps and globes have symbols that represent things in the physical world. Symbols have meaning. Colors, lines, and markings on a map stand for something.
- Let your children see you reading maps and using globes. They should become familiar objects in your home.
- Keep a globe or a map of the United States near the television and use it to locate places talked about on television programs, or to follow the travels of your favorite sports team. Very young children won't be able to fully understand globes, but they will become familiar objects.
- Point out signs that indicate location. In a store or other public place there will be entrance and exit signs, and signs that indicate stairs, escalators, and elevators. Many signs use symbols. Point them out and talk about them. In elevators or other places, show children how people with visual impairments use Braille signs.
- Look at videos or photographs of yourself and your children. Point out how much smaller everyone looks than they really are. A map is like a photograph. A photograph represents you, only it is smaller. A map represents a large area, but it is small.
- Give children all kinds of blocks and boxes with which to play. You can put paper signs on blocks to show where the toy store or their house would be. When they pretend that the blocks represent objects, they are beginning to understand how people use symbols.