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Map Key Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Jennifer Lowery

Jennifer has taught elementary levels K-3 and has master's degrees in elementary education and curriculum/instruction and educational leadership.

Maps are visual representations of land, cities, even our entire planet Earth! In this lesson, we will learn about map keys and how they make maps easier for people to understand.

What Is a Map Key?

If someone asked you how to get to Juneau, Alaska, how would you find the answer? Technology would be helpful, so you might pull up a map 'app' on a tablet or phone that gives directions to different places. You may also type the city and state into an online search engine and look for maps in the website results. Maps are important in helping us find locations and learn about geography, or the natural features of the Earth's surface.

Most maps have something called a map key. This is almost like a code to understanding what the parts of the map mean. A map key is sometimes also called a legend. Legends or map keys use symbols, colors, or lines to represent important places or landmarks on a map. They are usually located at the bottom left or right of a map.

This legend describes different roads and boundaries on a map.
Map legend

Different Types of Lines

Lines are used in many ways for maps. They can show the border between counties or states. They can be used to represent rivers or streams. On a city map, they can represent streets. It would be pretty confusing if the same kind of line was used for all of these different things! To make it easier to understand, map authors use different types of lines to help viewers understand what they are looking at - whether dotted lines, lines with breaks or lines that are different colors. The map legend is very useful to determine what each type of line or color represents.

Keys Using Colors

A lot of maps are very colorful, but the colors are not just for the viewers' enjoyment! These colors have meaning, and the map key can show us what those colors represent, or stand for. Often, green or brown represents land on a map. Blue usually represents water. However, other colors can be used to stand for all types of features! The map key tells us what these colors mean so we can easily understand what we are looking at.

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