Mapmaking is such an exciting project for children. Not only is your child learning the geography of America 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.
For America, we approached our mapping project quite differently. As this is a study of Native American culture, we focused on mapping the landforms, waters, and the tribes. Much of what shaped the culture of each tribe was the environment in which it dwelled. In studying various tribes, we need to keep in mind the region they lived within, the climate, the animals, and food available. All of these things impacted each tribe’s way of life tremendously.
Explain to your children that before Europeans came to America, there were no borders between what is now the U.S.A., Mexico, and Canada. For this study, as we are focusing on learning about the specific region that is now the United States, we will add the borders in order to map the exact region we are focusing on.
Using your previously made cut-out, have your children outline America on their maps in pencil. Draw in the land that is now Canada and Mexico so your children know which regions of the country border land and water (Canada and Mexico will go off the paper). Using your India Ink pen, draw over your pencil outline.
Watercolor the region we are focusing on (what is now the U.S.A.) in green, what is now Mexico and Canada in brown (to show we are not focusing on them), and the waters blue.
Rivers, Lakes, Gulfs, and Oceans:
Using this map, have your children find the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico. Have then label them on their maps.
The longest river in what is now the U.S.A is the Missouri river. The second longest is the Mississippi river. Have your children find those rivers on this map and draw them on their maps in blue colored pencil. Then have them label the rivers. Now have them find the Colorado River, the Rio Grande, the Ohio River, the Columbia River, and the Red River and add them to their maps.
Find the Great Lakes on this map. Explain to your children that these lakes are the largest collection of fresh water on earth. The five largest lakes are Lake Superior, Huron, Erie, Michigan, and Ontario. Have your children draw them on their maps and label them.
Use this map to view the major mountain ranges. Find the Rocky Mountains, the Appalachian Mountains, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Have your children draw them on their maps using upside down V’s. Then have them label the ranges.
The Native American Tribes:
Look at the map to the right with your children. Explain to your children that only a few hundred years ago, all across this land, lived many Native American tribes, and many still do. Point out the different regions such as the northeast woodlands, the southeast, the great plains, the southwest (desert), and the northwest (wooded). Explain that each region, with its unique environment, climate, animals, and vegetation, shaped the culture of the tribes. The environment impacted what people used for clothing, how they built their homes, whether they were hunters or farmers, and even their ceremonies and rituals. Now point out and name many of the tribes with your children.
Have them label as many tribes as they can on their maps. Include the Iroquois, Hopi, Sioux, Cherokee, and Navajo.
Add a map key and a compass rose.
After completing this map, watch the videos below with your children to see some of the spectacular places we just learned about from mapping.