It all started innocently enough. As our family prepared to leave Union Station in Chicago for our trainventure to Washington D.C., I showed Innis, my 7 year old son, a map that shows Amtrak’s routes across the United States. I pointed out that so many of the routes pass through Chicago. I talked about Stephen Douglas making sure that the Transcontinental Railroad would begin (or end depending on how you look at it) in Chicago back in the 1850s. It was one of those great social studies teacher-parenting moments combining history and geography.
But I had no idea that this simple act – the act of showing a second grader a map – would create something so awful – the Map Monster. The Map Monster reared its head on the train across the country. He checked the path through Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and Maryland again before we made it to D.C. He compared the time table with the map. It was cute on one hand, and terrifying on the other.
When we made it to D.C., I thought the Map Monster’s obsession would recede for a few days until we headed back home, but this was false hope. The Map Monster’s eyes lit up when we got on the Metro (Washington’s subway system). It was as if there was a new fuel for the Map Monster. He stared at the map, trying to make sense of it, and then he did. He understood that to get from Union Station in D.C. to Cleveland Park (the neighborhood we stayed in) that he would need to follow the Red Line. If we wanted to get to Foggy Bottom (our stop for the monuments) we’d have to change trains at Metro Center. By the end of the week my wife and I just looked to him to figure out our route.
But the Map Monster wasn’t just present on trains… he was everywhere. When we went to the Smithsonian (Red Line train to Metro Center then transfer to Orange, Blue, or Silver train) we came up the stairs to find a National Parks volunteer passing out maps on the National Mall area. The Map Monster quickly snatched the map from my hand and plotted our day. When we went into the Air & Space museum, the Map Monster found which exhibits we should see first. At the American History Museum, he led us to the floors and wings that had the stuff he wanted to see (thankfully the Map Monster’s brother and sister are kind enough to indulge him). At the African American History Museum (which if you get the chance to visit is amazing) he led us through the history of African Americans from slavery to today.
I’ve created this Map Monster, and I love it. I love that he looks at every map and tries to make sense of it. He tries to understand the story that the map is telling – and all maps tell us at story. He’s using the map, and not just trying to memorize it.
And because he’s using maps, and not just relying on GPS to tell us where to go, the Map Monster is developing all the geographic skills we try to teach students. The Map Monster used his curiosity to look at maps and understand his location, and how that location is connected to others.
If you’re looking to create your own Map Monster, it’s really not that hard. Give them a spark. Show them something on a maps that tells a story. Show them how places are connected. And you might just be amazed by what your Map Monster sees next!