We teachers have been talking with parents about how important it is, right at the beginning of the school year, to establish a strong sense of community among the children and teachers. It’s essential for creating the kind of environment where children feel safe and connected socially. We do this in part by talking together with the children about families, sharing photos, thinking about our samenesses and differences, remembering our experiences from previous school years together, and re-connecting with old classmates who may now be our “neighbors” in another class. This year, children expressed an interest in maps and we saw an opportunity to connect children to the school environment and to help form a cohesive whole-school community.
Our map-making project began early in the year spontaneously from conversations in the Goldfinch class. To extend the children’s interest, Anne and Barbara looked at a variety of maps with the children and read a wonderful big book called “Me on the Map” that featured a child thinking about maps of her room, house, street, larger community, out to the whole earth. This led to a class decision to make a map of the school playground.
There were many steps to making a map, especially when the goal was to get children working together. To begin, the Goldfinch children:
- began to pay attention to different areas of the playground
- took photographs of the different parts of the playground
- placed a photo on the playground map (the children had to think about what areas were next to each other and which areas were across from each other)
- checked their ideas by taking the map outside to see if everything was in the right spot.
After making some adjustments the children added the grass, the paved bike path, the woodchips and other details to the map.
This first step in the project finished, teachers noticed that the children were interested in doing more with maps. Some children extended the project by making pirate maps, maps of their bedroom and maps of the inside of our school. A Goldfinch child who starts his day in the Chickadee class early morning program shared his mapmaking interest with children in the Chickadee class. Before long, there were some interesting new maps that now had details important to children in the Chickadee class too!
When Stacey, Katrina, Anne, and Barbara talked about the children’s map-making interests at a planning meeting, it became clear that the project could be extended across two classrooms. We wondered about how Chickadees and Goldfinch could work together on maps. Would the children make individual maps or work together? Would they continue to map certain parts of the school and then put them together? Develop working relationships through map-making by focusing on common interests? Explore the school environment as a whole (inside and outside) though map-making? Simply meet occasionally to share their work and interests?
We decided to reserve judgment. We’d begin by asking the Goldfinch children to come in the Chickadee classroom, talk about the maps they had made and present their work. After a great discussion, it became clear that children from both classes wanted to continue to map our school. They decided that a good next step would be to map the hallway outside the Chickadee classroom, where lettuce and other plants are growing under grow lights. Children volunteered to join small groups, deciding each child should each make his or her own map after walking the hallway together. We were ready for the next step.
But it turned out that we didn’t work in small groups. Instead, the Chickadee and Goldfinch classes walked through the hallway together to investigate details that would need to be included on the maps, and set to work on individual maps. Some children from the Nuthatch class joined in. The results of the children’s work are hanging on the wall outside the Chickadee classroom. We expect that after children take some time to look over the diverse approaches to map-making on display there, we’ll be adding more steps to this on-going project.
What started as an interest among two or three children grew into a project involving children from three classrooms. Teachers listened carefully and recognized the children’s knowledge about and interests in maps. Teachers then worked out an approach to a map-making project that came to include all interested children in a developing process of exploring our environment and marking down the things most important to them.
For some children, it’s the people that are important to include in a map of the school. For others, it’s the shape of the building, including ceiling height and roof shape that matter. One child mapped our view of the Great Blue Hill with its trails, bird’s nests, and natural features. Many children were interested in finding all the exit signs, fire extinguishers, and doorways that are part of our school. As each child views other children’s work, everyone’s experience with map-making will be enriched. With the opportunity to talk about all these diverse approaches, all the children will have a concrete experience together that reinforces our connections to each other across a whole school community.
Map-making lets children use drawing to reflect their knowledge and current thinking about their immediate environment. It helps children take the time to notice details that are important in that environment, especially the important landmarks that help define our relationship to the space we share. Map-making helps children see their environment from diverse perspectives. When working on maps collaboratively, children begin to realize that each person’s vision of and relationship to their environment is unique. It helps children think about and experience space and spatial relationships in a concrete and meaningful way.
What happens next? The choices children make about their “next steps” in a map-making process will guide us. We may find that mapping the home environment (bedrooms or neighborhoods) offers the children ways to share more about their family lives. We may continue to map our school, and find other connections to the common spaces we share. Whatever develops, we teachers will be listening!
Has your child made any maps at home? Please share your mapping stories – it will help us know how to continue this project!