Follow the Trail to Map Reading

In this lesson, children will be introduced to map reading and create a map of their own classroom.

Content Area:

Beginning Skills and Processes

Learning Goals:

This lesson will help toddlers and preschoolers meet the following educational standards:

  • Develop beginning skills in the use of science and engineering practices such as observing, asking questions, solving problems and drawing conclusions
  • Understand important connections and concepts in science and engineering

Learning Targets:

After this lesson, toddlers and preschoolers should be more proficient at:

  • Developing and using models to represent their ideas, observations and explanations through approaches such as drawing, building or modeling with clay
  • Expressing wonder and curiosity about their world by asking questions, solving problems and designing things
  • Making meaning from experience and information by describing, talking and thinking about what happened during an investigation
  • Identifying, describing and comparing the physical properties of objects
  • Exploring concepts and information about the physical, earth and life sciences
  • Understanding rules to follow when investigating and exploring
  • Using tools and technology to assist with scientific and engineering investigations
toddler in garden

Follow the Trail to Map Reading

Lesson plan for toddlers/preschoolers

Step 1: Gather materials.

  1.  The book, Me on the Map, by Joan Sweeney
  2. A large piece of bulletin-board paper (before class, draw the shape of the classroom on the paper, leaving an open space for the door)
  3. Crayons/markers
  4. Map (country, state or town; local bus route; hiking or bike trails; etc.) to show as an example
  5. Community Map

Note: Small parts pose a choking hazard and are not appropriate for children age five or under. Be sure to choose lesson materials that meet safety requirements.

Step 2: Introduce activity.

  1. Read Me on the Map by Joan Sweeney.
  2. Introduce the idea that people can create and use maps to represent places all over the world.
  3. Give each child a copy of the community map. Show the children the map key that shows what the symbols on the map represent.
  4. Ask the children to match the symbols in the map key to the corresponding symbols on the map.
  5. Say: “Community buildings provide services for everyone who lives in the community. For example, everyone can borrow books from the library. Look at the map key to find the symbol for the library. Find the library on the map. What other places on the map provide services for the community?”
  6. Inform the class that we will be making a map of our own classroom.
  7. Students will:
    • Identify items in the classroom that should be included on a map
    • Visualize the view of furniture in the room from above
    • Use the language of location (next to, in front of, in back of, behind, under, near, between, inside, outside, etc.) to describe their location, locations in the classroom and the location of different items on the map)
    • Create a map key for symbols

Step 3: Engage children in lesson activities.

  1. Say: Pretend you are floating over your classroom or perched above it like a bird. When you look down, you see the room from above. A map shows a place from above.
  2. Ask: How do we know we are inside the classroom?
  3. Ask: What else is inside the classroom? Refer to the rough map outline that you created before class. Draw in the walls and ask: What do you think these lines are? Draw in the doors and windows and ask: “What are these openings?”
  4. Ask where the teacher’s desk is located in relation to the door and windows. Then draw the desk in the correct location on the map.
  5. Talk about other classroom items that can be included on the map, such as the children’s desks, tables, chairs, rugs or bookshelves. Place or draw other features on the map.
  6. Ask the children to show how they move around in the classroom by walking their fingers on the map from one place to another.
  7. Show scavenger hunt items on the map and ask the children to locate the actual items in the classroom by using the map.

Step 4: Vocabulary.

  • Compass Rose: A symbol that always shows north and most often also includes south, east and west
  • Landmark: Something that is easy to find like a mountain or building
  • Map Key: Explains what the symbols on the map represent
  • Symbol: A small drawing on a map that represents a park, building or other location

Early Science Glossary

Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.

Adapt Lesson for Toddlers
Toddlers may:
  • Be introduced to following a trail such as an obstacle course; draw pictures for them to follow
Child care providers may:
  • Use this park map for younger learners (ask them to find pictures on the map and walk their fingers on a route from Point A to Point B; add plastic animals for fun)
Adapt Lesson for Preschoolers
Preschoolers may:
  • Draw maps to the school library, office, cafeteria or gym
Child care providers may:
  • Give verbal commands if following the route on the paper is too difficult

Suggested Books

Can You Read a Map? by Rozanne Lanczak Williams 

Follow That Map! A First Book of Mapping Skills by Scot Ritchie 

Maps by Joellyn Cicciarelli 

Maps by Aleksandra Mizielinska

Maps, Maps, Maps by Joan Chapman Rosen

Me on the Map by Joan Sweeney 

My Map Book by Sara Fanelli

Music and Movement

Here We Go” and “Follow the Directions” songs by Jack Hartmann

Outdoor Connections

Take the learning outdoors! Children can create treasure hunt maps for their friends and younger classmates.

Web Resources

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