Map Activities for Kids

Instructor: Shoshana Yarin

Shoshana has taught all grades with an emphasis in science and has a master's degree in science.

If you have ever been to a zoo, amusement park or museum, you may remember getting a map to tell you where to go. Maps can be fun if you use your imagination. Read this lesson for some map activity ideas.

Maps, Maps and More Maps?

Have you ever looked at a globe and dreamed of traveling to faraway places? Have you ever studied a road map and planned out a trip? Going places on a map can be exciting. You never have to leave your home, and best of all the trip is free!

Maps can also contain a lot of useful information. There are maps of weather, landforms, history, and stars. There are maps that show roads, borders of states or countries, populations of people and maps of waterways. The list goes on and on! To become more familiar with the information on maps here are a few activities to try. And bring along your imagination!

Reading Latitude and Longitude

Latitude and Longitude

Latitude and longitude are lines on maps that tell us where we are on the earth and would be important for ocean travel since there are no roads.

Latitude (say, 'latitude' and notice that your mouth goes sideways) is an imaginary line that marks distances north and south of the equator. Try this: take a string and wrap it around the equator of a globe (or a ball) and mark the distance on your string. Then move the string up away from the middle and notice that the string is now too long. You can identify latitude lines because they get smaller as you move north or south from the equator.

Longitude (say 'longitude' and notice that your mouth goes up and down) is an imaginary line that marks distances east and west. Again take a string and hold one end at a point that would mark the North Pole. If you keep the string end held at that point and go around the globe (or ball) in any spot, your string will now always be the same length!

Now take a look at a map and try finding the latitude and longitude where you live.

What's on a Map?

A compass rose is another important tool on a map. A compass rose tells you how the map is oriented in relation to all the directions of north, south, east and west.

Compass Rose
compass rose

Look at a map with a compass rose. Imagine you are giving directions to someone from one point to another. What direction would you tell them to travel? Use the compass rose to give someone directions.

A Map with a Key

Most maps contain a key that can be used almost like a treasure map. (That's imagination again!)

Not a key to unlock a door, but a key to guide you through the map.

Find a map with a key and play 'eye spy'. Can you find all the key information on the map? Think about what the symbols represent.

Or try creating a map with a key. Ask someone else to locate something using the key.

Map with a Key
US Map

How Does a Map Give Distance?

Most maps also contain a scale. A scale lets you actually measure and calculate distances through comparison, such as 1 inch on the map equals 1 mile in actual travel.

If you want to imagine taking a trip, use the scale to figure out how far it is and how long it would take you to get there. You might have to mark it on a piece of paper and count how many measures. Would you travel on foot, by bicycle, car, plane or boat?

Create a map of your house, neighborhood or an imaginary place. What would your scale be? How does the actual distance relate to your map?

Lesson Summary

Maps give us directions of many different things, from roads to imaginary places. Distances east and west are measured longwise around the earth and are called longitude. North and south distances are measured by latitude, or sideways lines like the equator. A compass rose gives direction, a key helps you find details, and a scale allows you to calculate actual distances so you can plan your trip, real or imaginary!