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Map Skills for Elementary Students

Spatial Thinking in Grades preK-6

Photograph by Winn Brewer, National Geographic

Spatial Thinking and Maps Skills in Young Children

Spatial thinking allows students to comprehend and analyze phenomena related to the places and spaces around them—and at scales from what they can touch and see in a room or their neighborhood to a world map or globe. Spatial thinking is one of the most important skills that students can develop as they learn geography, Earth, and environmental sciences. It also deepens and gives a more complete understanding of history and is linked to success in math and science. Young students also enhance their language skills as they collaborate and communicate about spatial relationships. Students who develop robust spatial thinking skills will be at an advantage in our increasingly global and technological society.

This collection can help you teach an assortment of map skills through activities that address the spatial thinking abilities of young children and developmental appropriateness. The collection is not intended to be a complete map skill program, and the activities can be adapted for higher or lower grades. Click here for a downloadable summary of all activities and the learning objectives and spatial thinking concepts targeted in each activity.

Mapping Concepts and Skills

Spatial Thinking

Spatial Thinking

Learn more about the development of concepts and skills across the early years.


Large-Format Maps

State Tabletop Maps

State Tabletop Maps

Dive into state geography learning with printable, tiled tabletop maps.

World Map for Kids

World Map for Kids

National Geographic's The World for Kids wall map is an enticing and engaging world map perfect for classroom, home or library. Recommended by geography educators for ages 7-12, this map features an optimized map design for readability and easy, intuitive learning.


Maps of Familiar Places

Introduce young students to the concept of maps as representations of places with these community maps.


Educational Video

The Cartographer's Dilemma

The Cartographer's Dilemma

Making a flat map of a round planet is a challenge all mapmakers have to deal with. Watch this video to learn why every map projection has some distortion.


Pictures of Practice

See activities in action in these picture of practice photo galleries.


Model Student Work

Many Ways to Name a Place

Many Ways to Name a Place

View a student-created atlas in this model student work photo gallery.


Maps as Tools for Adventure

Map Games

Map Games

Have children explore the roles maps play in daily life with fun, online games.