J adores maps. I think his fascination began because of his love for puzzles. His grandma bought him a USA board puzzle back when he was one year old that required a little more skill than all the other pegboard puzzles and I guess he liked that challenge. We have since bought quite a few map activities and puzzles as he remains fascinated. My thought is run with what they enjoy! Most of what he’s learned, he’s initiated on his own. I don’t consider knowledge of all 50 states or all 7 continents essential for a 2 year old but since he’s continually asking questions, we answer and encourage that interest.
I do find that maps offer great practice with shape recognition, spacial recognition, directional and locational instructions (north/south, above/below), and even speech as he practices saying each name (many of which are not easy for adults to pronounce, let alone a toddler). These are all great benefits!
So onto our geography games.
1. Bean bag drop – This came about on the fly after he completed one of his puzzles. I pulled out some bean bags (ours are each a different color) and started calling out a color bean bag for him to use and then a state to distinguish. He would then try to drop the bean bag on top of that state while standing straight above it. This was my attempt to encourage some practice with motor skills and hand-eye coordination while taking advantage of his interest in maps. We first tried tossing it to the appropriate state, but he is far from able to accomplish that. We then reversed rolls and he called out a color beanbag and a state for me to hit.
2. Flying across the US - We’ve also played a similar game using our map puzzles and a free helicopter we got from a fast food kid’s meal. If you pull the tail of the helicopter the propeller flies off and lands, spinning like a top. So we used that, again practicing motor skills (to work the toy) and he had to name the state that the spinning propellers landed on.
3. Photos across the USA/World - J has family all across the country (and world), so this game is something he can relate very well too. We use photos of family members for him to place in the correct state or country. I often pull this out when we’re about to travel so that he can get a good idea of where we’re going. He flies his toy plane from one place to the other, mimicking what we will do in the air (or car if we’re driving). We also use favorite characters/toys to help him relate to the state (ex: Mickey Mouse lives in Florida, cars are made in Michigan… a generalization of course, but something a 2 year old can relate to).
4. Twister Geography – You would need a large map for this activity (we use the foam floor maps). He has to touch a certain location with a designated body part. “Right hand on Georgia!” or “Left wrist on the Pacific Ocean!” So far J can only handle one set of instructions at a time. With preschoolers you could give multiple instructions similar to the game Twister.
I’m actually really excited about his love for geography (since I love it too!). As a jr. high teacher we did a ton of geography games and activities that I’m currently trying to figure out how to adapt for a toddler.
So what is your little one interested in? Maybe it’s not geography but cars or animals. How can you use that interest to capitalize on other skill practice (perhaps even more needed skill practice)?
Age attempted: 34 months
Here are some of the map products we have that have served their purpose well:
Battat Wooden USA Puzzle: My mom got J a set of puzzles that included this. This was his first map puzzle. There are no pegs in the US puzzle. He played with the others in the set much earlier since they had pegs and were far more simple. The states are mostly grouped together by region to create larger pieces (only Texas and California stand alone). This isn’t a great puzzle for state recognition but it was a great transition puzzle from the simple wooden peg puzzles to the traditional cardboard puzzles.
Imaginetics Magnetic USA Map - they simply lay each piece on top of the corresponding spot in the magnetic book. This was J’s 2nd geography “puzzle” and worked well. Since you don’t have to complete the entire map, this was a good step up from the board puzzle. We also used the magnetic sheet that each state came in as a shadow activity for shape recognition (just play on a cookie sheet). Many of the pieces are small and a few with tiny parts have broken (Michigan and Maryland). It is still worth the cost for us.
Melissa and Doug USA Puzzle - this is a cardboard puzzle we got J for Christmas; I should note that each state is cut according to its shape and does not have the traditional puzzle cutouts. The border (oceans) fit together like a normal puzzle, but the states do not. I love this feature. J has had to learn how to deal with this so that the states aren’t moving around as he builds. IMO this has helped him learn even more skills than a normal puzzle would offer, but it can be frustrating before they figure it out the best process.
Wonder Foam Giant USA Map - J’s grandparents bought him this for Christmas (so yes, now he has two USA floor puzzles… and he loves them both!). This is a very large puzzle. Each state fits together like a traditional puzzle. I like that they attempt to teach the general location of Alaska and Hawaii in relation to the continental US whereas most puzzles just place them in a corner.
World Map Foam Puzzle – This is a REALLY large puzzle with very thick pieces so it is very sturdy. This map is pretty busy and a newer concept for J by introducing all the countires. This is definitely one we work on together, though it’s amazing how fast you see improvment with practice!
Globe – When school supplies were really cheap at Target, I bought him a globe that he loves. Since we have family both across the country and around the world, he has been encouraged to locate where they live on the globe. I think a globe is a great resource/toy for kids since it really helps put geography into perspective. Through playing with it and asking questions about it, he has learned the names of each continent (though he can’t locate them all).