Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Maps, Kids, and Adventures

What does this have to do with a map?
My nephews (5 and 6) have known about maps from an early age.

I've given them age-appropriate, map-themed books. I've mailed them maps on postcards from faraway places, along with postcards showing photographs of those places. 

In the process of finding a world map for them, I realized most world maps are centered on the Atlantic Ocean. This does not work well when explaining how to get to Japan. Imagine showing a little kid the route, falling off the left side of the map, only to reenter the map from the right side.

No, I had to find a Pacific-centered map.

Understanding Maps

As a distraction waiting for meals in restaurants, the nephews sometimes draw maps on the backs of their paper place-mats with crayons. They rush up to maps in airports, and like to explain where they are on the map, and discuss where we're going next in the airport, preferably riding a shuttle train.

These little guys are developing an understanding of the relationship between the physical world, and symbolic depictions.

Interacting with maps is a good mental exercise. It also builds awareness of their context relative to their community, state, the USA, and the world.

As they get older I'm looking forward to their increasingly nuanced understanding of their place.


This year I introduced my nephews (and myself) to geocaching.
Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity, in which the participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called "geocaches" or "caches", anywhere in the world. [Wikipedia]
There are 2,410,075 active geocaches and over 6 million geocachers worldwide. [geocaching.com
I signed up (no charge) with geocaching.com and discovered there are dozens of geocaches within minutes of their home.

I chose caches that were logged as recently visited (to increase chances the caches were still in place), and classified as easy-to-find. I loaded the coordinates into my Garmin handheld GPS, then printed out the clues for each cache along with an area map showing their locations.

Before picking up my younger nephew (his brother was at school), I located the first two geocaches. I had never geocached before, and wanted to be sure the experience got off to a good start.

He and the GPS became inseparable: he immediately understood the relationship between the map on the GPS screen, the paper map, and the terrain. He followed the rules about signing the log, and not taking anything without providing a replacement.

I now inject geocaching into our activities. Towards the end of a cycle ride, when they're starting to slow down, I say "Hey, let's find some geocaches." Or, walking between a restaurant and a playground, I'll let them know there's a geocache nearby.

I get rewarded by happy dances when they find the cache.

New Adventures

I see geocaching as a gateway to more challenging map-based activities.

When they are old enough (16?), my dream is to take my nephews to Europe, drop them off at a youth hostel, and give them general instructions for a journey through two or three countries. They will have their fancy mobile devices (year 2024 smartphones) to pay for tickets, food, and accommodation, and to research, map, and log their journey.

I understand this is my dream: ultimately I want them to fulfill their own dreams.

For now, though, it's our job to keep giving them new challenges.

Note: The photo at the start of this post shows a cache at a filling station. "Be careful not to let the Muggles see us."

No comments:

Post a Comment