Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Use day hike as opportunity to teach children to read topo maps

A day hike provides a great opportunity to teach
children how to read topographical maps.
There’s no better time than when hiking with elementary-aged children to teach them how to read a topographical map. It’s a real life situation in which they can relate the map’s symbolic features to the landscape.

When showing children how to read a topo map, be sure to cover the following:
g Compass direction – Kids should know that the top of virtually any map is north. By lining up the map with a landscape feature, they’ll always know where west, east and south is.
g Landscape forms – By showing how contours run on the map as well as elevation numbers, kids can learn what makes a draw, a mountain peak, or a canyon.
g Scale – Point out that an inch on a map equals so many yards or miles. They then can estimate how far away objects on the landscape are using the map.
g Colors – Help children understand that a green tint means forest or brush, blue means water, black means man-made objects such as buildings, and that brown is a contour line.
g Symbols – Show kids the map legend and have them identify roads, trails and power lines on the map as well as on the landscape.

Teaching children at a young age the basics of reading a topo map will help them develop strong navigation skills. In the long run, they’ll find hiking more enjoyable and are far less likely to get lost.

Read more about day hiking with children in my Hikes with Tykes guidebooks.