This article is for parents of young children.
In the old days, and even in the not-so-long-ago days, we used maps, verbal directions, or journey markers to find out way around. Now nearly everyone has an electronic device to tell them how to get from one location to another with no need to memorise a path or journey markers. However, I think it is still a useful skill and that noticing landmarks along the way can make a journey more interesting and memorable. It’s also useful when in an area with no network service or a device that has no power.
Young children may not have access to electronic navigational devices, but they are usually accompanied by adults who act as their personal navigators. This is necessary, of course, for their safety. However, it is important to encourage even young children to be observant of their surroundings as there will come a time when they need to navigate independently, be it in the grounds of a new school, from home to a friend’s house, around the shopping mall, to catch a bus or, eventually, drive a car. Not only will they need to recognise markers on these routes, but they will need strategies to implement if lost or separated.
When children take note of seasonal and other changes, both temporary and permanent, in addition to permanent features, of their environment, they are building essential knowledge; knowledge that can be developing long before they need to find their way alone. Consequently, if the ability to find one’s way around has already been learned through demonstrations and discussions or by deciding which route will be taken for a journey, when the need arises, independent navigation will be far less daunting for the child, and much less worrisome for the parents,
The best way parents can help children develop confidence in navigating their own neighbourhood is by pointing out landmarks and discussing the routes they are following, whether travelling on foot, on bicycles or in the car. It is good to sometimes give children the responsibility for remembering where the car was parked, where the shopping mall was entered or how to find the way back to a particular store.
There are many opportunities, whether in the car or on foot, to take note of landmarks; for example:
- The numbers on houses,
- The types of fences
- How many streets to cross
- Large trees
- The entry to the shopping centre
- The row and number of the carpark space
- Bridges crossed.
A delightful picture book that can be used to discuss the importance of knowing one’s way around and of staying safe is the beautiful Pat Hutchins’ book Rosie’s Walk which tells the story of a hen who goes for a walk around the farmyard and gets back home safely in time for dinner. The story also introduces many positional words.
Positional terms are useful for describing the location of neighbourhood landmarks in relation to each other and use of them helps to develop spatial awareness along with language; for example:
past the shop
across the bridge
over the road
through the park
in the middle
beside the lake
along the road
next to the bakery
around the corner
behind the fence
near the post office
as well as left and right.
You could use the book Rosie’s Walk as a springboard for encouraging children to draw a map of their house, their yard, their neighbourhood, the journey to Grandma’s house. They could then use the positional words to get from one place to another.
Together, you could draw a mud map of the neighbourhood and discuss the placement of landmarks and different paths that could be taken to get to and from them. Such discussions encourage divergent thinking.
It can be helpful for children to think of these maps as being from a birds’eye view, or from a plane. It is not such a stretch then when they are introduced to more formal maps such as Google Maps and street directories on which they can learn to point out or mark places they have visited.
The Hokey Pokey is a fun game that can be played to teach left and right. If you don’t remember the song there are many videos on YouTube to watch. My only caution is that watching someone facing you and using the correct side can confuse children as they will need to use the visually opposite side to be correct. Having been a teacher of young children for many years, I became confused about left and right because I had to use the opposite side to mirror them when teaching left and right. In this video, the demonstrator mirrors the side for the children to copy.
Navigation need not be difficult if children are introduced to it in purposeful and fun ways from a young age. Why not give your children a little more responsibility for showing the way?
Until next time,