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# Are We There Yet?..You Tell Me!: Teaching Your Children About Direction

Parents' Choice Foundation
Updated on Jan 8, 2010

No family vacation is complete without a healthy dose of “are we there yet?” coming from the peanut gallery. Why not turn this question into an educational game for those inquisitive kids and let them answer it for themselves? The only things they’ll need to play are an atlas and some keen observation skills. As the game begins, you’ll quickly see the dreaded car ride turn into an exciting adventure.

We recommend using the Rand McNally Kid’s Road Atlas, especially for novice geographers who may not be familiar with maps. Let them get acquainted with the layout of the atlas and the most important elements needed to read a map:

### The Legend

The legend, or map key, is a description of the symbols and lines on the map.* By using the legend, children will be able to identify highways, cities or towns, state capitals, parks or water bodies, or points of interest on the map.

### The Scale

Maps come in all sizes; some show the whole world and others show only a small neighborhood. The map scale tells you how space on a map equals distance on the earth. Scale is used to measure distances between places on a map. Measure the length of the distance from place to place on the map and then use the scale to find out how many miles or kilometers that is.*

### The Coordinates

A coordinate is a letter-number combination that helps you find places on a map. To locate a city, look in the index to find the coordinate for that city. If, for example, the coordinate for the city is B-5, look down the right or left edge of the map for the letter B and draw an imaginary line across the map. Then, look across the top or bottom of the map for the number 5 and draw an imaginary line down or up until it crosses the imaginary line drawn from the letter B. The city will be inside the area around this point.*

Once they’re familiar with the atlas, give children clues about your current location, your destination, and the direction you are traveling. Don’t give away the answers – let them use their observation and newly acquired map-reading skills to find their own way. Good clues might include:

1. Road signs
Have children look for city names or route markers on road signs that you pass.
2. The Landscape
Make sure children take notice of the landscape around them – are you driving through a wooded area, which might indicate a national park; have you recently crossed a bridge over a waterway; or are you surrounded by buildings?
3. Landmarks
Look for important landmarks like monuments, airports or train tracks. If you are in an urban area, look for points of interests like museums or government buildings.
4. License Plates
What license plates are on most of the cars around you? Aside from indicating what state you are in, they may also help determine the direction you are traveling. If you are traveling north from Virginia to Maryland for example, you might notice lots of cars with Maryland license plates.

If your young passengers do not know the location of their destination point, give them clues to help them find it. Make it fun by giving them clues that pertain to books they’ve read, movies they’ve see, or things they’re studying in school. For example, if you’re going to Ohio, you might say: “In 1492, who sailed to America for the first time? The answer is the name of the capital of the state we are visiting.” Once they’ve figured out that Columbus is the answer, they can look up Columbus in the atlas to find out that it’s the capital of Ohio. There are endless possibilities to the clues that you can give. Most importantly be creative and have fun.

Now, if you haven’t arrived at your destination yet, let them figure out how far you have to go. Knowing their current location and their intended stopping point, have them copy the map scale onto a small piece of paper and measure the distance from point a to point b. When they determine the number of miles you have left, let them know how fast you are traveling (50 miles per hour, 65 miles per hour, etc.) and they will know exactly how much longer it will take to get there.

With a good atlas and a little imagination, getting there will now be half the fun.

* From the Kids Road Atlas, Published by Rand McNally © 1999

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