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My five year old son is obsessed with maps. I first noticed the obsession when he was three years old and we had just returned home from Disney World. He slept with his collection of park maps every night and instead of a bedtime story he’d ask me to navigate the map. “We entered the park here and waited by the big tree. Next we walked through the gorilla trail….” It wasn’t long before he could recite the weeks itinerary. Anyway, I figured it was just a temporary infatuation with Disney World. I was wrong.
Playing with Maps and Puzzles
We have large colorful maps on our playroom walls – one of the USA and one of the world. I realized he was very interested in a young age at identifying the different countries and states. Next he became a wiz at the map floor puzzles and our wooden states puzzle. He was always questioning me about the names of the states and learned very quickly where each one is located – by name, not just puzzle piece shape. Kids learn so quickly and these puzzles are great because they are learning geography and spatial skills simultaneously!
It wasn’t long until he moved on to an obsession with landmarks and where they were located on the map. We read about London Bridge every night for a long time. Did you know that a former version of London Bridge is actually here in the US – in Arizona? Other favorites include the Eiffel Tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Grandmom’s house and the local winery 😊
Atlases and Globes
When we started reading pages from the 1994 Newsweek atlas at bedtime I knew I needed to up my geography game. If he was so interested he should at least be learning the current geography! For Christmas he got a light up globe and a kids world atlas. He will sit in bed at night for hours comparing the maps to the globe. I love that he is so curious about the world – I don’t love it so much when he keeps creeping down the stairs late at night to ask me where Switzerland is
Giant Wall Map and a Geography Game
While my husband and I were at IKEA one night we stumbled onto a huge wall map that looked like it was distressed wood. It is pretty cool! The map fills a whole wall of my son’s bedroom and works perfectly with his industrial style décor. The fun thing about this map is that nothing is labeled on it. It is just a picture. So, we have labeled it with post – it notes. It’s a fun game that the two of us play. First, he’ll pick a city or country – we locate it on the globe or in the atlas. Then I’ll write the name on a post it note and he places it on the giant wall map. He studies that map all the time – trying to figure out the relationship between all his different landmarks.
When he was in preschool they had a letter board and brought in items from home that began with the letter of the week. He was the kid that brought in maps of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Zaire! And could identify them on the world map!!
Geography Related Kids Games
I feed into my kids obsessions so I started acquiring more geography related games and books. We love playing the Scrambled States of America – we play a hybrid version since they can’t really read yet. But we all have fun looking for the states, counting syllables and learning our capitals. Once he started playing this game he was determined to learn all the state capitals so I made him (and his sister) state capital flashcards and he has impressed me – I think he remembers more capitals than I do.
More recently we have started playing Ticket to Ride First Journey. He understands the concept of the two coasts of the United States and enjoys finding pathways between the cities.
It is amazing how much a child can learn just playing a game if you are engaged with them and feed them little tidbits of knowledge. They want to learn so much.
Using a Road Atlas
He has his own road atlas that we bring for long car trips and he can follow along the highway route in his book. Prior to having his own atlas he would drive me crazy asking a million questions about the map on the GPS – now he can follow along with the route numbers himself. Funny story – that atlas saved us when we were driving home from the beach last summer. Traffic was at an absolute standstill in West Virginia and I could not get the GPS to bypass the backup. Our Ultimate Road Trip Atlas came in handy – we were able to find a back route through a national park to get home.
Recently he has been more obsessed with landmarks so I found these really cool Cubicfun 3-D puzzles that we did together and now have displayed in the Dining Room. So far we have built London and Paris – I think New York City is next on our list!
There are so many amazing resources out there for kids who are interested in geography. I love when kids learn through play and learn about things because they want to. Since Christmas and his birthday are coming up I’ve started collecting ideas of other great geography books and games and I’d love to share my list with you!