Back to School - What Kids Think About Maps

Back to School - What Kids Think About Maps   by Eliane Dotson

For Jon and me, August is typically known as "back-to-school month."  We have two elementary school-aged children, and although they start school at the beginning of September, August is always filled with a number of back-to-school activities, such as buying school supplies, meeting the teachers, and fitting in one last summer vacation trip before school and homework tie us down for a while.  With back-to-school on my mind, I thought it would be fun to interview a few kids and find out what they know about maps.  I interviewed 10 kids between the ages of 8-12 - old enough that they could articulate themselves, but young enough that I would elicit free-form answers that weren't just memorized from their schoolwork.

This is far from a well-researched, academic article, but it is August after all, and most of us are enjoying a last vacation or trying to prevent our brains from melting in the heat, so perhaps a light read is just what is needed.  (By the way, the heat index is 103 degrees Fahrenheit here in Richmond as I write.)  Please enjoy the following quotes from some Richmond, Virginia kids.  I think you'll find a pleasant mixture of astute thinking and funny quips!
What is a map or how would you describe a map?
Elle (age 12) - "A piece of paper that has pictures of the continents and oceans and labels everything. Usually land is a different color than the seas. It's a geographical tool."
Cole (12) - "Something that you use to pinpoint a location or to find your way if you get lost. A small replica of the area around you."
Rachel (12) - "A piece of paper that explorers used so they can know where they are. Some places are unmapped because they hadn't explored it yet."

What are the important features of a map?
Jack (11) - "Names of states, roads, directions where you need to go - like north, east, south, west."
Lauren (12) - "Rivers and stars."
Henley (8) - "Dots where some places are, a compass, other countries, states and continents."
Rachel (12) - "Depends on what kind of map; a topographical map shows elevation, others show rainfall or ground levels; maps help people get acquainted with the area."

Who uses maps?
Lauren (12) - "Explorers, people, pretty much everyone."
Henley (8) - "A lot of people. My mother uses them a lot. Some people don't use paper maps anymore; they use them on their phones."
Kate (9) - "People going on trips who don't know where to go."
Nate (11) - "If you are traveling and trying to find out where to go, or if you're doing construction to figure out where to build something."
Elle (12) - "People who sail across the ocean; explorers to find their route; schools to teach kids about the names of the continents, states, and oceans."
Charlie (9) - "Almost anyone who can afford one."

Why do we need maps?
Lauren (12) - "So we know where to find things and what our location is."
Zack (9) - "So we don't get lost when we're trying to go somewhere and we don't know where it is."
Cole (12) - "Without them we'd be flying blind. You wouldn't know what's where or be able to figure out where you are."
Charlie (9) - "Without maps we would not have a good source to find places."

Have you ever used a map, and what did you use it for?
Jack (11) - "In school we were trying to find states using coordinates."
Zack (9) - "To find out where to go to eat lunch."
Henley (8) - "Sometimes we use maps when we do treasure hunts at school."
Kate (9) - "To go on trips and for scavenger hunts."
Nate (11) - "When we were going on a road trip I was following along on the map."
Elle (12) - "We were sailing and before we got on the boat the sailor showed us on a map where we could go and were we shouldn't go. And on our phone we use GPS."

Have you ever made a map, and what was it a map of?
Lauren (12) - "In 2nd grade I made a map of a candy city for school."
Zack (9) - "I made a map of my neighborhood."
Henley (8) - "I've made treasure maps with an "X" marks the spot."
Kate (9) - "I made maps of my room and my house for school."

What do you know about old maps - ones that are more than 100 years old?
Jack (11) - "Columbus used them to get to the United States. Old maps are usually brown."
Lauren (12) - "Way back then maps weren't accurate. They were mythical, like with sea monsters."
Zack (9) - "There were treasure maps."
Henley (8) - "Old maps are different. They aren't as light, they are dusty, more sturdy, more wrapped up, and more interesting."
Kate (9) - "They were on paper."
Nate (11) - "They weren't very accurate; they took a while to make."
Cole (12) - "They were a lot different than maps we have today. In Columbus' day they thought there were only 3 continents."
Rachel (12) - "They are very valuable. Lots of places hadn't been discovered yet, so they are really rare and valuable."
Elle (12) - "They are more complicated to read and understand. Some are in Greek or other languages and some have holes in them."
Charlie (9) - "They would probably have a sea monster on them. They used to just make things up on the maps."

Many libraries keep old maps, and some people like to collect old maps.  Why do you think they keep and collect old maps?
Kate (9) - "They could lead you somewhere. They are artifacts."
Nate (11) - "It shows how things have changed. You can compare how different it was a long time ago."
Cole (12) - "Some people like to collect things - like coins - it's something to do. It's educational."
Rachel (12) - "It's a source of information for libraries. Collectors want to know about the world before them. In California our library had an underground area and maps were kept there so the sun wouldn't damage them."
Charlie (9) - "They are like an antique piece of furniture. They are valuable since there aren't any left in stock and they are very unique."