Parents have a million choices to make when it comes to early education; deciding on a preschool can feel like applying to an Ivy League college. One way to bring playfulness into early learning is to use age-appropriate and developmentally-minded toys with visual aids – and lots of them. World maps for kids, from sticker wall art to wood puzzles to tactile globes, are an amazing mix of imagination, memorization and Geography 101 (without the Harvard-level syllabus).
Modern children’s maps are not the dusty school globes of yore. Colorful, interactive and full of fun facts about animals, vegetation, climate and local traditions, these children’s maps are meant to spark their curiosity about the world beyond their own, going beyond simple memorization of continents and capital cities. Immersive and age-appropriate options help guide children to their own interests. Do they want to learn more about the animals in Africa? Count the number of countries in Europe? Figure out how long it take walk across Australia?* Maps bring out their little explorer, without having to get on an airplane.
(*About 897 days, depending on the route.)
For a newborn nursery, playroom or classroom, this large tapestry doesn’t require a total remodel (just a few thumbtacks or a wall strip to hang it up). It’s colorful and works as a global backdrop; the cute animal illustrations, like koalas in Australia and moose in Canada, are basic enough for early learners.
Many reviewers of this wooden puzzle give it high points for durability and several comments note that it is suitable for 3+. With 36 pieces and kid-friendly instructions, this is a tactile activity they can return to again and again.
For children who have moved past the basics, this kinder-level foam map comes in three large pieces and offers detailed world building with 83 country pieces, dozens of world flags as well as capital city stickers. Europe is particularly detailed and comes as a separate piece within the set.
To really make the continents stick, try this adhesive world map. Besides the adorable illustrations, there’s capital cities, landmarks and animals for little ones to explore. (It’s also a lot easier to get off the walls than marker.)
If your preschooler has been regaling the home with the “Tell Me the Continents” song, this map is an ideal companion. These five framed puzzles really pop with color and get high marks from parents for being easy to pack away and portable. For children wanting to learn specifically about US geography, the states are included on the North America map.
Once they are past the memorization stage, kids can start to critically think about how geography works in real life. Enter the popular Little Passports subscription box, a genius way to keep them engaged and feeling very grown up. The first box includes a passport, suitcase, map, country coin, squishy and introductory letter from a pen pal. Every month thereafter, children will receive a new country to explore (via mail) and the map builds. Recommended for children 6+.
For kids who want a little more action, the Top Secret Adventures mixes problem solving and role-playing adventure. The first kit includes a secret passport (with an alias, we presume), a country guide, clues (like secret codes and mazes) and a puzzle, all to help them solve the ultimate mystery. Just don’t ask too many questions – international spying is serious business. (Recommended for kids 7+).
It’s a small world after all – so why not go extra-terrestrial? This three part map covers the United States, the world and the great beyond – the solar system — with introductory facts about planets, moons, orbit and intergalactic ages.
Banana Panda’s What In the World Young Explorers jigsaw puzzle and map takes concepts familiar to younger kids (like including native animals on contintents) and makes the details even richer with landmarks and eco-system graphics. There are 168 pieces to put together, a decent challenge for kids over the age of 6.
Melissa and Doug sets are top notch, and this floor set (recommended for 6+) is interesting because it’s not just the continents that need to be assembled, but also the oceans. Make room for exploration as this measures 2×3 feet.
Getting ready to hit the open road? National Geographic knows a thing or two about exploring, and this U.S. Road Trip Atlas is full of fun (and distracting) boredom busters, wacky state facts, interesting factoids, landmarks and, because it’s National Geographic, plenty of amazing photos. “Are we there yet?” has nothing on this book.
Almost 2% of American adults believe the Earth is flat. Perhaps this 3-d globe would set them straight? It’s also great for preschoolers (3+) just learning about spacial awareness, shapes and using their fine motor skills.
We may live in the era of Google maps, but learning how to use a paper map and follow directions is a timeless skill (especially when there’s no WiFi). Follow That Map: A First Book of Mapping Skills, is a picture book that introduces mapping concepts (like following directions and using landmarks) through the search for a dog and a cat who have gone missing. Children are guided from their local environment to the city around them to other countries and at the end, can make a map of their own bedroom.
Me on the Map helps kids answer one of life’s key questions: “Where am I?” Children are able to place themselves on the map, and get a little closer to finding their place in the world.
The 50 States Fact Filled Map is perfect for the little librarian in the family: it’s full of curious details about states, American history (like battlefield locations), natural wonders and Jeopardy-worthy trivia.
For more education resources, check out more of Spotted’s mom-approved toys.