Several years ago I asked 4th graders about their spring break ski vacations and discovered that many of them had no idea what state they visited. Sometimes if a I listed a few ski places: Taos? Aspen? Breckenridge? it might ring a bell. One child's family even had a condo that they visited several times a year, yet the child looked blank when I asked where it was. Obviously, if a family has enough money for a ski vacation the lack of location awareness can't be put down to economic deprivation. But in this world of cell phone maps and GPS is learning to read a paper map, locating a country on a globe, or remembering how to get to a new friend's house worthwhile skills? What is acquired from reading paper maps and navigating without GPS ?
- "Spatial navigation skills can cause the hippocampus and the brain to grow, forming more neural pathways as the number of mental maps increase. Neuroscientist Veroniques Bohbot said, 'The results of studies suggest using spatial memory regularly may improve the function of the hippocampus and could help ward off cognitive impairment as we age."
- People learn by creating paradigms. Knowledge of a location helps a child remember what happened there. It is more difficult to learn and memorize history or current events if you don't have a mental image of where it happened.
- Understanding a region's climate and environment makes travel more fun. A study from the Applied Research in Quality of Life found that vacationers felt the happiest before a trip! It is difficult to enjoy the anticipation of travel if one has no idea where one is going.
- People dutifully following a GPS have been known to drive off bridges, go the wrong way, or get totally lost. Walking head down following a phone with GPS limits a person's perception of what is around them, and how they got from here to there. Orientation and navigation skills help a person feel more in control. "The more humans uses GPS, the more cut off from the real world they might become," writes Rebecca Maxwell.
- Getting a perspective of the size of states, countries, or towns is easier on a globe or large map. While we may appreciate the ease of a map on a phone, a child may not yet have an image to relate size and direction.