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They Get a D for the Way They Taught Us Map Skills

I’m catching up to January 6th in my new book – 365 Travel (ed. Lisa Bach) – which arrived today. January 2nd has an entry by Mary Morris. She says people who love to travel also love maps.

I sure didn’t fit that profile, especially in 5th grade. My family moved in the middle of that school year, and I ended up having to take map skills twice – once in Lime Springs and again in Riceville. I missed Iowa history completely because the two women who taught me 5th grade social studies that year scheduled their mandatory map skills/Iowa history curriculum for opposite semesters. So, in the fall, I had map skills (in Lime Springs). And in the spring, I had map skills again (in Riceville). Ugh.

So why did I hate the class? Because we never really went anywhere. It was learning without incentive. A two-dimensional map that doesn’t lead to a great vista or a great experience is pointless. It’s like learning to read so you can look up numbers in a phone book – numbers of people you will never call.

Maps didn’t become important to me until I wanted to know how to get to my best friend’s house for a sleepover. Or how to find the house of the boy I had a major crush on in high school so I could surreptitiously drive past his house. Or when I was a grown up and wanted to find a great restaurant. Or I needed to find my child’s pediatrician.

Now, I care. I want to learn. Now, maps mean trips to the Holy Land or Mexico or Ireland.

Map skills, like foreign languages, should never be forced into a curriculum and limited to the four walls of a classroom. They should have built-in incentives.

There should be a bang for the buck.

Success in map skills should get you somewhere. Learning a new language should mean that you can carry on a conversation with a new friend, a new colleague, or a potential girl/boyfriend. And …

A little traveler who can read a map should be able to navigate mom or dad to the nearest Dairy Queen – and get an ice cream cone at journey’s end. That’s how to turn a five-year-old into a traveler.

That’s how to instill a little wanderlust in a child.

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