How to Teach Children Mapping Skills in Kindergarten

In kindergarten, students begin learning to identify continents on simple maps.

Without the knowledge of maps, directions and geography, no one would be able to find a new doctor's office, the post office or the local elementary school. This is why by the end of kindergarten children should have a solid understanding of neighborhood or city maps as well as world maps and continents. Kindergartners can learn map legends and directions through hands-on activities and games as well as through looking at and printing out directions from online mapping websites.

Ask kindergartners how they know how to get from one place to another. This will create a general discussion around the classroom. Next ask how they could find a way to get from where they are to an unknown destination.

Pass out handouts of a city map and a world map. Explain that the world map displays a view of all the continents on Earth from space and that the city map is zoomed in on a particular area. City maps are used to navigate from one place to another and all city maps are within the world map. Demonstrate how a city map comes from zooming in on the world map by pulling up Google Maps or Earth, Yahoo Maps, Bing Maps, Mapquest or another mapping program on a computer. Zoom all the way out to the world view, then type in the address of the school so students can watch the map zoom from world view to city view.

Draw a world map on your chalk or dry erase board. Label each continent. Ask kindergartners which continent they live on and point to North America. Have them label and color their world map.

Draw the cardinal directions on your board. Have kindergartners copy the cardinal directions on a sheet of paper. Explain to them that most maps have a legend that explains what any symbols mean and displays the cardinal directions, and these directions help them navigate.

Play the game Four Corners to help kindergartners memorize north, south, east and west. To play, post one directional sign per wall. Stand in the middle of the room with your eyes closed as children scatter to different directional walls. Call out one of the directions and all children standing near that wall are out of the game. Count to 10 as children move to a different wall. The game is over when there is a small winning group.

Use your printable city maps to let kindergartners practice navigating from one place to another. For example, tell all kindergartners to start at the school. They will use a pencil to trace their paths. Instruct them to walk east until they reach Oak Street, then turn north. Ask kindergartners which location they arrived at. Continue to practice navigation until they seem to understand it and get most answers correct.

Take kindergartners outside to the playground with a blank sheet of paper and their cardinal directions drawings. Give them a starting point and tell them to draw a basic picture of the playground and the different locations of play areas. If they don't feel comfortable drawing the actual monkey bars, slide or other playground equipment, they can draw boxes and label them. Tell kindergartners which way is north, south, east and west so they can copy it onto their maps.

Instruct kindergartners to pick one play area to write directions for. They will write directions using their cardinal directions, such as: From Point A, take 10 steps north. Take 10 steps east to reach Point B.

Have kindergartners switch maps and follow the directions of their classmates to find the correct play areas.

Take kindergartners back to the classroom. To celebrate their new knowledge of mapping, they can build an edible map. Pass out napkins and give each student a slice of bread. Kindergartners cover their bread with peanut butter. Hand out pretzel sticks and several items they can use as landmarks such as chocolate chips and gummy bears. Kindergartners can draw a path to one candy to the next with pretzel sticks on the bread and write down directions using the cardinal directions. At the end of this activity, they can eat their maps.

Marianne Luke has been writing professionally since 2005. She has experience writing instruction manuals, research, fiction, nonfiction and poetry, and she also reviews Orlando local music for "Orange Ave Lab" magazine. Luke earned a Bachelor of Arts in technical communications and creative writing from the University of Central Florida in 2010.