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Summer STEM: Become a Map Master

Illustrated map of Africa from Honest History Magazine


Maps have been a valuable tool for exploration for over 2,500 years. In the 6th century BCE, the Babylonians created some of the oldest maps on clay tablets using a writing form called cuneiform. Today, maps are still widely used by billions of people worldwide. You can find maps for public parks, national monuments, and public land with walking and hiking trails. Maps also help plan communities (so they don’t negatively impact the environment around them), prevent us from getting lost, and educate others about the world. 


Learning to identify key features on a map is a valuable skill that can help one navigate while out and about. It can also improve spatial awareness and reading skills. All good things for growing brains!


Child carrying a map from a national park


Here are some kid-friendly activities you can do with maps!


  1. A scavenger hunt! The next time you go out hiking or on a trail, grab a compass and a map of where you plan to go. Look at a legend on the map for the symbols and see if you can identify landmarks and features while out on your walk. How many did you see? What kinds of animals live where you explored? 


  1. Learn the parts of a map. Archaeologists use topographic maps every day to identify historic and archaeological sites. They use tools such as a compass and map while deciding where to excavate, and what environmental resources are nearby. Take a look at this activity by the Society for American Archaeology to learn how archaeologists use maps to understand their terrain and how people once lived there.


Open book with map and compass
  1. Map the animals. Print out a map of an area with a natural environment. This can be a national park, the lake down the street from you, or the open space in your backyard. What kinds of animals live there? Mark on the map where you think certain animals might live based on the environment from the map.


  1. You can become a mapmaker! Cartographers create maps by observing the world around them and providing symbols for real-life locations, animal sightings, and water features. To be a cartographer, scout out a location you want to map. Next, find key landmarks near your location that you can place on your map for others to identify. You can draw plants and nesting areas that you see. Make sure to include your cardinal directions so your map readers know which way is north, south, east, or west! As you draw your map, be sure to label all your symbols in a legend so your reader knows what each symbol means. Try it here.


  1. Geography at home. Print a large, unlabeled map of the earth. Try to fill in the map by either continent or country. Where are you located on the map? Where do people you know live? Take turns with a friend or family member and label countries or places you recognize on the map. You can also mark familiar places or places you may want to visit one day.

    We would be remiss if we didn't mention, our kids magazine is filled with map activities for at-home geography lessons. Using our Honest History maps, kids can explore AustraliaIndia, Africa, China, Japan, Renaissance Europe, the Roman Empire, and so much more. 

    Map of Russia from Honest History Issue 14 | A Russian Winter
    You can find this fill-in-the-blank map in Issue 14 | A Russian Winter.

    Here at Honest History, we believe maps are amazing tools. Not only do they 
    promote spatial skills, they also nurture a sense of adventure and connect young historians' to the world around them. Stay tuned in as we continue to share summer STEM activities for curious kids!