Mapmaking is such an exciting project for children. Not only is your child learning the geography of Mexico in a much more memorable way than fill in the blank maps, but she is learning a historic art form. I find that my children truly learn and retain their geography when they create their own maps, as they are having a visual, kinesthetic, and artistic experience while learning the geography of the region. Here is how we approached mapping Mexico.
Materials: watercolor paper (we use 11 x 17) waterproof India ink pen, watercolors, colored pencils, an atlas or computer for reference maps
(Prepare a cutout in the shape of Mexico by outlining Mexico and cutting it out for your children to trace around- or they can draw free hand on their maps)
Using the Mexico cutout (or drawing freehand), have your children draw Mexico (in pencil) on their papers and then go over the pencil in black India ink. Then have your children watercolor Mexico any color they wish and the waters blue.
Begin by looking at Mexico on the map with your children. Ask them what continent it is a part of. Then note that it is the southernmost country in North America and connects North America to South America. Note that the countries in between the two major continents are referred to as Central America because they are in between, or in the center of, the two Americas.
Ask your children to locate the capital city of Mexico (Mexico City).
Now point to the long peninsula on the western side of Mexico. Tell your children this is called Baja California, but is part of Mexico.
Oceans, Gulfs, and Rivers:
Look at the map of Mexico. Look to the farthest western coast and point out the Pacific Ocean. Have your children label it on their maps.
Explain to your children that a gulf is a large area of water, connected to an ocean, that is surrounded by land on three sides.
Point out the water between Baja California and the main land of Mexico. Tell your children that this is the Gulf of California, also called the Sea of Cortes.
Now point out the water that meets the eastern coast of Mexico. Trace the land that surrounds the water on three sides to emphasize that it is also a gulf. Now tell them that this water is called the Gulf of Mexico and it meets the Atlantic Ocean. Have them label it on their maps.
Use this map to look at the many rivers in Mexico. Have your children find the Rio Grande on the map and draw it on theirs using a blue colored pencil. Then have them label it. Do the same with the Rio Grande de Santiago, Rio Balsas, Usamacinta, Rio Lerma, and as many others as your children would like.
There are two major mountain ranges in Mexico; The Sierra Madre Occidental range and The Sierra Madre Oriental range. There is also another smaller range called The Sierra Madre del Sur. Use this map to locate the mountain ranges. Then have your children draw them on their maps using upside down V’s and label them.
The capital city of Mexico is Mexico City. Using this map, have your children find it on the map and then label it on their maps using a star with a circle around it. Then have them label other important cities such as Guadalajara, Acapulco, Oaxaca, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Monterey, Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, Cancun, Tijuana, and as many others as your children would like to include.
The south-easternmost region of Mexico is referred to as the Yucatan Peninsula. It is a beautiful region with lush rainforests and a tremendously diverse habitat. Using this map, have your children label the Yucatan on their maps. We will look more closely at the Yucatan when we work on our wildlife maps.
This is a perfect time to explain to your children that Mexico was once inhabited entirely by indigenous cultures that had their own languages and practices before it was conquered and colonized by the Spanish. Therefore, there are many ancient pre-Columbian and pre-Cortes cultures of Mexico, as well as the post Columbian Spanish influenced cultures. The culture and art of the indigenous tribes have impacted modern Mexican culture, art, and dance tremendously. We will be looking closely at a few of those tribes, so it is a good idea to also note where they lived.
The Huichols lived and live in the northwestern region of Mexico, just west of the northern region of the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains. Have your children label the area they lived in on their maps.
The Aztecs lived (and their descendants still do) in what is now Mexico City. Have your children label the Aztec region on their maps.
The Maya lived (and their descendants still do) in the Yucatan rainforests. Have your children label the Mayan region on their maps.
Have your children add a compass rose and a map key to their maps. Then have them title their maps, “Map of Mexico,” and they are finished!