If your kids are anything like mine are, your long driving trips begin with the ubiquitous “Are we there yet!?” before your car even gets to the highway. As a preemptive tactic (one of many!) for our 10 day spring break trip out west, I used google maps to make up individual maps for my kids to reference and mark our progress.
Here are easy instructions how you can put your kids in the navigator’s seat on your next road trip, and have them be in charge of telling the car if you’ve arrived yet.First, open google maps and type in your starting point, or home. Then click on “Get Directions.” For this example I’m going to map Vancouver, BC, Canada, to Seattle, WA, USA.
Once you have your desired route on your computer screen as big as it can get, you’re going to take a screen shot (a picture of your desktop). If you have a mac, press command shift 3. If you have a PC, you probably have a key that is called “PrintScreen” in the upper right corner of your keyboard. Once you press the appropriate keys, you have taken your picture. My computer saves the screenshot on my desktop, so I minimize any windows I have open and look for the image icon on my desktop.
Now that you have your route and map, you can make it more interesting for your kids by adding text. Open Word (or whichever word processor you prefer). Click on “Insert” on the top tabs, and then look for “Picture” and then choose “from file.” Locate the screenshot that you took from google maps and insert it onto your Word document.
To work with the image, you should first right click on it, and choose “format image.” Click on “layout” and choose the option to allow the text to show in front of the image.
Now you have the ability to crop and resize the image. Click on the crop tool, and drag the tiny black bars/corners to where you would like to crop your map.
Now you are ready to add text boxes with important or fun information for your kids.
Armed with a marker and their map, my kids were able to follow our route and get excited as they saw as getting closer and closer to our destinations. My first graders loved to read the signs outside, and match the cities with those on their maps. In addition to challenging them to be spatially aware, the maps can become alive as you cross rivers, lakes, or other landforms. If crossing into different states or provinces, you could have the kids color the borders and watch for the “Welcome to….” signs. Paired with a compass, travelers could take note of the direction of travel, and be aware of turns and curves. We also talked about the differences between major interstate highways versus smaller country roads– and how both are represented on a map. Likewise, noticing how the size of the font represents the population of the towns becomes more vivid as you pass through the center of these communities. We drove through many small towns with populations in only the hundreds, and talked about the differences between towns and cities; my kids even noticed that no matter the size of the town, everyone had a church, gas station, park, and grocery store. So many possible conversations and geography lessons packed into one small map!