While for some of us it might feel like the distant past, there was a time when we all had to rely on paper maps in order to figure out how to get from A to B.

GPS and smart phones may have largely removed the need to own maps, but that doesn’t mean learning to read a map has become a less important skill (and not just for those times when your phone can’t locate your position).

While a preschool-aged child today might not ever need to read a paper map, the process of learning how to use a map will benefit them throughout their lives in so many ways.

Here are some preschool map activities that hopefully you will see the value in passing on your knowledge to your youngsters, too.

  1. Pre-reading and Pre-Writing:

Lines, curves, color are all part of reading a map, as well as creating your own map.

  1. Creative Thinking:

Maps can be about the real world such as a map of your room or come from the pretend world such as a treasure map.

  1. Symbolic Thinking:

A map is filled with symbols to represent water, land, roads, mountains. There are so many opportunities to build understanding of symbols.

  1. Learning Concepts of Design:

Maps represent real-world places with real-world natural, as well as built, objects. We can use the process of teaching maps to show how towns and places are designed – and by allowing our children to design their own maps of roads and towns, using places already familiar to them.

They can do this simply, by using wooden blocks to represent objects and places and then drawing them onto their own map.

This process helps develop their skills of visual perception (including differentiation of basic shapes), as well as considering directions, corners, curves and bridges.

  1. Gross Motor Skills:

One of the best ways to help children learn about maps and navigation is to set up an obstacle course.

Reading a map and following a path with your finger is one thing, but it’s quite different to be outside, navigating your way around, over and through tunnels, trestles, ladders, beams, blocks and climbing equipment.

Create your own map for your child and then help them follow the right direction and order around a playground; this will help them bridge the gap between the objects as shown on the map and how they appear in the real world.

It also provides them with a sense of space.

As an added bonus, this kind of play will help them develop their gross motor skills, strength and awareness of their body as they maneuver through the various heights, angles and directions of your obstacle course.

  1. Hand/Eye Coordination and Visual Discrimination:

Hand/eye coordination is a core skill that we work to develop throughout the early childhood years.

You can work on this important skill by having your child trace paths on a map to get from one place to another. Similarly, they can complete simple mazes.

Table games are another great way to improve map-reading skills like visual discrimination, as well as concepts of size and shape, which are crucial to both designing and reading a map.

Snakes and ladders is a classic example; the children manipulate their counter along the board, following a dictated path – including directions ‘left’, ‘right’, ‘up’ and ‘down’.

The numbered squares in this game also provide children with an early example of using coordinates.


Children born today will grow up with a very different relationship to maps to that of children twenty years ago.

But the inherent value in being able to read and navigate using a map – and the numerous benefits from developing this skill – are as strong as ever.