A Study of Maps for First and Second Grade

“As I draw something on the blackboard, try to guess what it is, and if you know, raise your hand – but be sure to keep it a secret,” my combined first and second grade were was told. As I drew the map of the room, keeping it secret kept children intent upon the goal without spoiling it for others while deciding for themselves. When I finished, and the correct answer was given, as they sat on the rug watching where I put an X, they were to raise their hands if they could go to that spot in the room. There was a huge variation – some that accomplished it with ease to those who were near but not quite there to those who went to the wrong place. Map study is very difficult for many young children incapable of transferring symbols to concrete surroundings.

So for the next activity a map of the school was given to a pair of children, hopefully of equal ability. The map had major areas such as the art and music rooms, the cafeteria, etc. identified, but all classrooms except ours was left blank. Each map for a pair of children had 4 X’s marked on different classrooms in the building. Each pair was to go to the X classrooms, look at the numbers on the doors, discuss it, and then record the numbers of the doors on their map. (They were to try very hard not to disturb any classes and to be as quiet as possible.) Again, there were variations with only a few having no difficulty, some identifying two out of the four, and some unable to find any. And this was a map of a building that they used daily.

So, why are young children expected to understand maps of a town, city, state, nation – and the world??? They can’t. Well, a few may be able to understand very local maps of our class, school, and maps of Kiddiecity and Miniville, built in our classroom, but very few. Children certainly can learn to give the correct answers, but most without any adequate concept.

A more experienced teacher told me about her explanation to develop an understanding of larger areas, such as towns, states, and the USA. And that was to draw three concentric circles on the board. In the middle was Fayetteville, the town we lived in; the middle circle was New York State; and the outer circle the United States. Preceding this, we used the same circles as we thought about each having a bedroom, in a house, in a neighborhood, in Fayetteville and then in our classroom, in our school, in our town.

Since I was unconvinced that they were old enough, lost enough egocentricity, to fully understand the concepts, I decided one year to do an experiment. Throughout the year, I showed them books, newspaper pictures, and maps of cities and states explaining the similarities and differences. My plan at the end of the year was to give each child two pieces of paper and ask them to create any kind of a city map on one piece and a state map on the other. Each one would not have to duplicate a real one. It could be imaginary. Well, we ran out of time with finishing the end of the year projects. I told the class about my plan that we couldn’t do, because the end of school was so close. I asked them if each received two pieces of paper, could they draw a city map on one and a state map on the other. Without exception, they nodded their heads in agreement and saying of course they could do it easily. So I asked what would be the difference in the city map and the state map. Expecting inaccuracies, I was still surprised at their answers, as they related things like, “There would be more grass, butterflies, birds and dirt in the city than the state.” etc. As each answer was given, heads nodded in agreement. They had no idea concerning the relationship of one to the other, except for one child. And, I had many very bright children. Only one girl looked puzzled as each gave their answer. When I questioned her, she did indeed have a correct concept of the differences. She was only in our school for three years before returning to Europe. She had flown back and forth three times. So she saw the differences from the airplane.

There’s nothing wrong to introduce young children to simple maps of their classroom, school and town and then of our country and the world, but it is wrong to believe that correct answers indicate accurate concepts.  Children may understand how small a map of our classroom and school is compared to the real thing and know that a map or globe of our world is very small in comparison, but their responses may be purely verbal without a good concept. Young children are able to put a United States puzzle together correctly, but it isn’t any different than putting a picture puzzle together. They may only have known or learned what shapes go beside another, not what a vast expanse of land it is compared to their town or school or home.

Learn more about programs in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on www.amazon.com

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