Nature Maps: 2 Projects for Curious Young Naturalists

NATURE MAPS - 2 Projects for Curious Young Naturalists

Map skills and nature study are two things that I really like to incorporate regularly in our home-educating activities so when I saw the following projects in the book Map Art Lab, I was very excited to be able to combine them.

Why is it so important for children to develop map skills?

  • Maps convey information that help us understand our world.
  • Map making deepens that understanding.
  • Maps are a way of sharing ideas and experiences.
  • Making maps allow us to express our sense of place.
  • Interpreting maps involves reading and math skills and builds spatial awareness, visual literacy and critical thinking.

If you would like to learn more about introducing maps and map-making to your child, I highly recommend the book MapMaking With Children by David Sobel.

Now, on to the projects…

Mother Nature Maps

If your child is unfamiliar with maps, it would be helpful to briefly discuss the different types of maps and look at some examples.  The Library of Congress has a diverse online map collection.  Then grab your camera or sketching supplies and head outside.

Take a close look at the nature around you.  Look on trees, rocks, leaves, shells.  Take notice of the patterns.  Perhaps the cracks in a large rock look like streets.  Beetle larvae tracks beneath the bark of a tree might look like a map of a branching river.  Maybe the colors in a tide pool remind you of a thematic map you’ve seen before.  There are no limits.  Be open-minded and welcome creativity.

My seven year old enjoyed taking photos of whatever struck her fancy.  I admired her ability to see without judgement.  There was no “right” or “wrong”.  Sometimes my kids took pictures of things not because it reminded them of a map in the moment but because it might look like a map when we viewed the photo of it.  And they were right.

It’s fun to put them together into a collage or hang the photo next to a similar-looking map.  Here’s just a few of our “Mother Nature maps”:

Mother Nature maps

The pattern in this ice reminded us of contour lines on a topographical map

Mother Nature Maps

We thought this looked like a terrain map

Mother Nature Maps

Either a big city or plots of farmland with a main thoroughfare

Maps Personified

In the book, this project is called “Personify a Place”.  For centuries maps have been made into the shapes of people and animals to portray abstract ideas, attributes, emotions or concepts.  Often times it was satirical.

I think this is a wonderfully creative way for children to communicate their knowledge of something.  The instructions in the book suggest mapping a familiar person but of course, I chose to make it something from nature.  It also provides a fun opportunity to work in some geography and map terms.

Here’s how to do it (this activity is best for children ages 9 and older):

  1. Think of a favorite thing from the natural world like a shell, a bird, a tree, etc.
  2. Make a list of distinctive features and characteristics.
  3. Using a photo or drawing as a guide if you like, either draw an outline of the object or trace the outline from the photo/drawing.  Make sure it is large enough to easily add details and labels.
  4. Add some physical features (rivers, mountains, forests, deserts) and label them by combining geography & map terms with the characteristics they represent.
  5. Give it some color.

My ten year old LOVES birds and so that is what he chose.  Here is his personified bird map…

Nature personified map

My seven year old was not in to this activity but did help me create one of our cat.  It’s not finished but it gives you a look at how we began our personified maps.  Some lines will get erased as we add the various features.
 Maps Personified
As your child chooses an object to create a personified map from, keep this quote from Lucy Sprague Mitchell in mind – “It’s important to have children begin map-making the way they begin drawing; maps and drawings are representations of things that are emotionally important to children…children’s maps represent their experiences of beauty, secrecy, adventure, and comfort”
I hope you and your children enjoy these activities.  I’d love to see the results!
Have a wonder-filled weekend!

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