Messy Maps: A Foundation Stage Response

In the Winter issue of Primary Geography, the ‘Messy Maps’ feature was of particular interest. The article explained that using classroom objects to represent places or features of a locality is successful for teaching representation on maps. Children use 1 object to represent 1 place or feature. This takes the emphasis away from using Lego to build houses, and towards using single blocks to show single houses, for example. Classroom examples in the article took a Key Stage 2 focus, so I considered ways to use this concept with my Reception class, and as our Spring Term topic was ‘Homes’, there was a great opportunity to use maps with 4 and 5 year olds. 


I planned to take a more local approach than some of the ideas suggested in article and my main teaching took place around Huthwaite, Nottinghamshire; the catchment area of my school.

Even though we investigated our local area through several short walks, we also looked at aerial photographs, utilised Google Street View and talked about what we could see on much larger scale maps.

Making a journey stick helped the young children to visualise the roads that we walked on and the theory of place attachment was used when visiting the local shops; we made a special relationship with the family who owned the fish and shop as they gave us all a lollypop!

After piecing together several walks around Huthwaite on the journey stick, we used this knowledge in the classroom. This is where we got messy! By role playing from our journey stick, and drawing on knowledge from our attachment to special places, children selected tools and resources from around the classroom to represent buildings and homes along roadside carpet tiles that I provided.

We repeated this activity again later in the week, giving children more ownership of the direction of the roads. Some of them even made labels to add to the map.

To consolidate our learning, small groups worked in an empty classroom with similar tools available. Their task was to create a map of our classroom. I needed to direct their thinking at first by discussing the shape of our classroom; some said it’s a cube and others said a square. I opted for square and linked to the idea we were looking down from a helicopter; they explained that is how the aerial photographs had been taken earlier in the project.

Furthering the direction they needed, we located the doors of the classroom and by role playing the morning routine, we mapped the position of my chair using shape tiles. From then, children began to position other areas of our classroom; the sand, water tray, home corner, library and den It was interesting that the writing and numeracy tables were one of the last to be positioned! Children used talk in their groups to decide the positions. I would only intervene when their decisions conflicted too much, so we would return to the role play of morning routines and a child would ‘sit’ on my chair. This appeared to help them gain a better sense of direction and the map progressed.Reflecting on the project, I would like to have assessed how our ‘design day’ helped with this task. Children spent the day designing and making a shoebox bedroom, and I wonder if I repeated that day, would children’s bedroom designs improve?

The concept of getting messy when making maps has been a success in the foundation stage, and has inspired children to work together in their representational play. Thank you for such a brilliant feature, I look forward to many more!

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