My dad was a cartographer. A whole lot of my childhood drawings, right through into my teenage years, were drawn on the backs of maps.
I love maps. As a kid, in the days before GPS, I would always be the one holding the road map on car trips. As an adult, the first thing I do on arriving in a new city is scratch around until I can find a map to orientate myself. When I ran a hospital ward, I would carry a map of the work place to scribble all over, so I could keep track of where everybody was and where they were going. Maps are deeply ingrained into the way I think.
Part of the appeal of maps is that they allow us to visualise places which may or may not exist without ever going there. Stories and lives can take place in maps. They allow the mind to freely wander. It was a day for discovering the backyard with a treasure map.
The first step was to draw our map. As the picture shows, it was drawn by me. I had a degree of help in what went where. I drew a compass point and some coordinates on it. In a detail only I appreciated, the coordinates match those you would use to identify squares on a chess board.
While one of us was mapping the backyard, the other busied themselves charting the River Iss, found on the planet Barsoom. We had just watched the movie ‘John Carter’ the night before, and it had made a big impression. Maps of the imagination are my favourite kind.
With the maps finished, we went outside. The game was to make up some cardboard tickets, hide them in the garden, and mark the hiding place on the map with a cross. We would look at the cross on the map, and work out how the picture related to what was on the ground. If things were going well, we would also work out the map coordinates. I originally started off hiding crystals to look for, but got in trouble for raiding his collection.
The bits of cardboard we were finding were good because they could be prized as whatever we wanted them to be. Sometimes they were tickets to order your lunch with. Sometimes they were money. Sometimes they were medallions which could transport you to the planet Barsoom.
I liked this game. It was a nice example of learning through context. In a single exercise, we were able to combine drawing, recognition of symbols, spatial awareness, running around, and most importantly, imagination. That is where learning really takes place.