DIY Mapping Work for Preschool & Elementary

Mapping work is a fun way to develop spatial reasoning skills, learn how to read a map, and practice giving directions! I created this work for my daughters (ages 4.5 and 6) and used it in three different ways with them. You could do this without using the cardinal directions and instead using words like “above,” “below,” “to the left,” etc — but my daughters have been noticing the direction our car is traveling because it lights up on the screen, so I wanted to make it a true mapping work.

For my preschooler, I simply let her look at the picture of the scene and rebuild it from that — no verbal directions yet. The next time we do this, I might point out some directions after she’s made it — “Oh, look! The trees are to the north of the pond! The station is in the southeast corner.”

For my elementary child, I first gave her a lesson on the cardinal and ordinal directions and how to tell where something is in relation to something else. For the purposes of this work, the edges of the green felt map were “borders.” Then I held the pictures of the scene and gave her verbal directions to place each of the objects. I said things like, “The pond is in the southwest corner, and the bridge is crossing the pond on the western edge of the pond from north to south. The straight road stretches from the western border to the southern border.”

Then we switched! Lila held the picture and gave me verbal directions to recreate the scene on the mat.

To put this together yourself:

  1. Arrange a scene using toys — in this case, I used pieces from a train set that we have, but I’ve also done it with dollhouse furniture.
  2. Take a picture from straight overhead — a bird’s eye view.
  3. Repeat with several different configurations — I did 6 different scenes using the same objects.
  4. Print your photos as cards and put them alongside the objects.
  5. Optional: add cards for the cardinal and ordinal directions (and insert the letters on your photo cards) and incorporate that language into your lesson.

Have fun!