Inspired to Learn
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Inspired to Learn

Map-making with Kids

Image by the author ©️Akasa Collective

Kid’s Class: Explore the world and map your story!

For a couple years before the pandemic, I co-ran a weekly hiking group for families with little kids where we explored the forests, ponds, beaches and wetlands of Long Island, New York. We didn’t hike far- the kids would dawdle, climb trees and play, and parents would provide some nature study along the way.

In this way we were close up with nature, awed by the variety of fungi and mosses, bugs and berries, discovering the seasonal timing of different wildflowers blooming and going to seed.

Often learning alongside our kids, we shared our knowledge about foraging, consulted guidebooks, kept nature journals, collected leaves to study, draw and make art with. We acclimatized our bodies to being outdoors in all weather, throughout the seasons, avoiding ticks, and cleaning the mud off our shoes every week.

We got to know dozens of trails, secret beaches and dunes, nature centers and wildlife refuges on Long Island. There seemed to always be more hidden gems to discover amid this dense suburban landscape.

Image by the author ©️Akasa Collective

Akasa Collective is a small international architecture and urban planning collective I co-founded in 2012. My partner in Barcelona and I conceived of a program for kids to learn urban planning through curriculum, hands-on projects and map-making. Our long-term goal was to give kids the education and tools to protect and improve their own communities as they grow up.

As we built the conceptual framework for this program, I proposed map-making activities to our hiking group in order to test some ideas and learn from the kids. The goals were to create another way for the kids to connect with their environment, and to foster a sense of belonging and a desire to protect these natural places.

Image by Author ©️Akasa Collective: child making map in nature

To start, we focused on three ecosystems around water found on Long Island: pond, river and coast. Activities included collecting treasures, heightening their observation skills and creating maps of the paths they hiked. Kids were given clipboards and markers so they could easily draw on location.

Maps by Author ©️Akasa Collective
Image by the author ©️Akasa Collective: Maps made by children ages 4–9 in the field

Next, in order to explore how kids perceive these natural places, we hosted multi-media map-making workshops for our hiking group. We created collaborative maps of the places we had visited, using the common thread of water to show the connectedness to each other and to the whole world.

Image of child and author pointing at the water on a map which is projected on the wall and overlayed with drawing.
Image by the author ©️Akasa Collective: Explaining how all the water is connected using projected map over drawing paper on wall.

While my partner was proposing map-making to elementary schools in Barcelona, we came up with a step by step process to map-making with kids, and created a how-to manual with a toolbox of ideas and activities for each step: Noticing, Engaging, Recalling and Mapping.

Image by the Author ©️Akasa Collective: Recalling the places we hiked and made maps of before making a collaborative map
Image by the author ©️Akasa Collective: Collaborative 3D paper mapping

Mapping can be done anywhere and can use a variety of media. We found that kids of any age can make maps if they try. It may not look like much to an adult, but when a young child explains their map, tracing their finger over a path, they are often telling a story, sharing with grown-ups how they perceive their experiences. And we should listen.

Images by author/Akasa Collective: maps by kids ages 5 & 4

I took groups of kids on walks through a more urban place, a harborfront downtown we knew well, “slow-looking”, using all of our senses, and taking note of the details of our surroundings. The kids engaged in what the town had to offer- a farmers market, an art show, the urban structures on the harbor. They were then tasked to create maps of their experiences, both individual and collaborative.

Photo collage by author ©️Akasa Collective: collaborative maps by kids ages 5–13

Creating personalized and collective maps of their place-memories- whether in town or in nature turned out to be a fun, creative and challenging activity that allowed kids to bond more with their surroundings.

The kids were also developing real skills through mapping: spatial perception, drawing by hand, and putting thought to paper. Our approach to teaching map-making gave the kids autonomy over their subjective map creations, without precise rules to follow, making each one a personal memory map.

This strategy of noticing more, engaging more, recalling experiences and then artfully making maps connected us to the places we love on Long Island. And it is something anyone can do anywhere to feel a sense of belonging in the places we live and visit.

©️Akasa Collective ; traveling, hiking and making maps in Spain

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