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Primary Geography Handbook Extension Project: Maps and Stories 4-7

Children in a forest

Everyday Lives

This section extends the content of Primary Geography Handbook Chapter 6, ‘Understanding and Developing Primary Geography’

‘… Geography is part and parcel of our personal survival kit. It is a way of looking at the world that focuses our learning on what places and the environment are like, why they are important to us, how they are changing and how they might develop in the future. To make sense of the features and layout of our immediate and the wider world, we map it, both to see where things are and to help us understand… …the variety of natural and human processes at work.’

Catling (2004) p.75

This chapter is an excellent foundation base of knowledge for effective primary geography and includes a rationale and a clear sense of progression and purpose from Foundation to Key Stage 2 in which distinctive skills such as enquiry and mapwork are clearly explained.

Everyday Lives is the theme chosen for this section and it focuses on walks in everyday localities. Children should be encouraged and supported to be active explorers of their locality, developing both a sense of place and the spatial skills to represent this growing knowledge. Everyday we travel through our local area yet do we really look closely and think about what we see?

These fiction books have been chosen because they all offer opportunities for young children to think about different places through everyday journeys made on foot and to make real and imaginary maps.

  • Grandfather and I, Helen E. Buckley & Jan Omerod, HarperTrophy (2000) ISBN 978-0-14-055698
    A little girl and her Grandfather take the time to walk and talk as long as they like
  • The Tiger Child: A Folk Tale from India, Joanna Troughton, Puffin Folk Tales of the World (1999) ISBN 0-14-038238-0
    The Tiger Child makes the journey to the village to find fire and in exploring the delights of the village remains there and becomes a lap cat
  • Toffee’s Night Noises, Sally Chambers, Piccadilly Press Ltd (2002) ISBN 1-905606-62-1
    Toffee the cat loves exploring at night and this story tells his adventures through the sounds he encounters along the way
  • Titch Out and About, Pat Hutchins, Red Fox (2002) ISBN 978-0099400240
    Titch uses a thread from his scarf to find his way home after he gets lost visiting Grandad with his brother and sister
  • Handa’s Hen, Eileen Browne, Walker Books (2003) ISBN 978-0-7445-9815-5
    Handa’s hen has gone missing and she sets out to find it in her immediate locality, encountering different animals and environmental features along the way – a counting journey

Getting started

Grandfather and I is a good book to start out with because it gives a very clear message that we need to take the time to stop hurrying and look around us. From a textual point of view, it has simple repetitive text that young children will be able to join in with. It deals with a little girl and her Grandfather who walk and talk and never hurry. Other people in the story are always hurrying, either leaving the little girl sad because she’s left behind, or scared by the noise of rushing traffic. Simple pictures prompt the reader to look and follow the little girl’s gaze to see what she’s looking at – a fir cone, a squirrel, ducklings or bluebells for example.

This book works on two levels, first in evoking a sense of pleasure through taking the time to slow down and really observe the familiar, and second through its focus on relationships and family. This book sets the scene for exploring the local area, whether around the school grounds or outside the school.

Tell the children that you are going to have a walk and not hurry but rather:

‘… walk along
and walk along
and stop…
and look…
Just as long as we like.’

Enquiry starting points could include:

  • What time of year/season is it?
  • Where will we go?
  • What do you think this place is like?
  • What do you think we’ll see/hear/smell etc?
  • Who will be there?
  • What can we do here?
  • What might other people be doing?
  • What dangers might there be – how can we stay safe?

It is really important to start by finding out what children know, their conceptual grasp of what is ‘out there’ and the vocabulary they have at their disposal to describe it. You could make a class list of all the features suggested at the outset and compare this list with words and phrases garnered after the outdoor experience. You will be amazed how the knowledge, range and use of relevant language has increased.

Health and safety is really important even for just going into the school grounds, but this is something that pupils can be involved in and can begin to learn to take responsibility for, from an early age.

Talk, show and discuss dangers such as nettles, hard surfaces or insects that sting. Use outdoor experiences and images to support discussions and focus on how we can stay safe rather than dwelling on negative outcomes.

When out walking, buddy pupils up and ask them to help remind each other how to stay safe. Pupils can also write or draw their own simple risk assessments

Make sure children remember what their senses are and how we might use them if we’re really taking our time to investigate our surroundings.

On another level, Grandfather and I affords good opportunities to discuss family members who are special to us – perhaps an auntie, a cousin or an older brother or sister.

  • Who is it who is special and why?
  • Are there special places that you go to just with them?
  • How near to/far from you do they live?
  • How do they travel to see you or do you travel to see them?
  • How often do you see them? Does this depend on how near or far they live?

Issues and Misconceptions

Very young children will have a wide range of conceptions about the outside world. If they have recently started school they might not know the extent of the school grounds or what it might include. Young children often have some fantastic ideas about what animals and/or kinds of people live in places they do not know.

For example, thinking that bears live in the school field or that woods are full of tigers and snakes! Finding out what pupils know first will helps to identify and challenge such misconceptions. See this PowerPoint showing the actual comments of a very young child whilst out walking:

Download ‘My Walk’ Flash Presentation

Another common misconception is that natural litter such as leaf debris is ‘untidy’ and even ‘dangerous’. Many children might not have much experience of elements of the ‘natural’ world such as bark, leaves and twigs and are used to a more sanitised environment in which everything that falls on the floor needs to be swept up.

As these issues arise, find opportunities to discuss natural and man made features of the environment and explain that leaves, twigs and flowers for example can rot down and make food for other life. Use deliberately placed ‘man made’ objects such as metal spoons to encourage children to find and identify these objects as ‘not belonging’ in a natural environment.

Don’t think that you can only walk where it is ‘pretty’ or ‘natural’. Urban and/or hard landscaped school grounds offer plenty of opportunities for observation, recording and envisioning. City and town scapes can be very stimulating, beautiful and capable of providing real enquiry depth.

Finally, it is important that we as educators recognise that even very young children come to school as geographers! They have an innate curiosity about the world around them and we should never underestimate their thinking.

Using and Making Maps

Grandfather and I

Make ‘journey sticks’ of a simple walk. There is an excellent Teacher’s TV programme showing Jane Whittle from Edwalton Primary school out and about with her pupils having fun with this idea which is very transferable to different age groups and landscapes.

Download: Journey Sticks Lesson Plan

Pupils use given lengths of string or sticks to attach (using sticky tape, blue tack or string) ‘finds’ as they walk a short route. These finds can then be used as concrete reminders and evidence for the route travelled. Pupils can first produce a linear map, sequencing their finds and talking about their experiences and then use this to produce a more detailed map of their journey.

This makes a wonderful CPD experience for staff in your school focused on Geography and Literacy and is also an excellent team building exercise.

Use aerial views from Google on the IWB and provide pupils with paper maps of the same area at the same scale. Use oblique or tilted views to enable pupils to recognise key features in the school locality. Then compare patterns and features in the landscape using a range of aerial views and maps.

Bing Maps allows you to zoom in to areas and switch on a dual aerial and map view which is a really simple way to show how maps relate to landscape features.

With younger pupils, use large scale plans of the school grounds or just outline plans of the playground to plan and plot routes or for pupils to draw on or stick images and their own photographs of features.

Record pupils’ responses to different parts of a walk through ’emotional mapping’. Pupils could write or draw how they feel at different stopping points.

Sticky ‘smiley faces’ or even coloured dots can be used to record feelings on a simple map of the route during the walk and responses can later be collated into a class map.

Pupils can then use this map to explain how they felt about different places and spaces. Pupils can move on from this to use a programme such as Quikmaps to click and drag emoticons onto a map of their walk area.

Completely cover tables with large sheets of blank paper and provide paints/crayons/pens/felts etc. for children to draw imaginary maps inspired by the story they have read. For younger children it is helpful to draw a central path or road to give them a starting point. Provide small world human, animal and/or transport figures and models.

Fieldwork Opportunities

There is a lot of scope here to incorporate purposeful walks within the school grounds as well as having opportunities to walk around the school if that is possible. Foundation Stage pupils benefit of course from a curriculum that actively requires outdoor areas and learning to be properly planned for. In Key Stage 1, there is a statutory obligation to do fieldwork in the Geography Orders either within the school grounds or in the immediate vicinity of the school.

A well planned walk can awaken and develop keen observation skills in pupils, build on their natural curiosity about environments and develop confidence in everyday contexts as they learn to make sense of the world around them through first hand experience.

‘… Pupils need to learn how to read, interpret, use and make maps, not least as a life skill but also as a key tool in appreciating the nature of the environment and the processes that shape it. At its heart geography is about the world ‘out there’; it does not exist without a wide variety of information gathered from the environment. This can only be obtained by going outside. Fieldwork provides the raw data, the observations, the sampling, the measurements, the photographs, the sketch maps and the conversations that provide the basis for geographical understanding.’

Catling (2004) p.78

To view some ways in which generic thinking skills, as outlined in the National Curriculum, can be promoted through geographical studies, view this table of examples from Simon Catling (Ch6 p.87).

Mywalks is a concept which encourages individuals of all ages to re-engage with familiar surroundings and record their responses whether through photographs, written comments or sound recordings. This results in a unique interpretation of a route and can form the starting point for much fruitful discussion about how we view places. Look out for the Autumn 2008 issue of Primary Geography for an article on Mywalks.

Primary framework opportunities


The outdoors is a great stimulus for language and talk and pupils have a natural desire to communicate and share what they have seen and what they can do. Structured outdoor experiences are crucial scaffolds for language, enabling children to develop vocabulary and sequencing skills. For example, the journey sticks activity is one that clearly signposts a sequence of experiences and can be an excellent prop for a verbal re-tell or to write stories and draw storyboards.

Provide outdoor blackboards and chalks for pupils to write and draw on whilst outside at play. Other props might include binoculars (with appropriate safety reminders), viewfinders and lots of outdoor displays and labels.

Pupils will enjoy making their own direction boards, labels and information panels which can be cheaply laminated and will last several months. All of this will help to stimulate language development.


Reinforce number work in Early Years by having a walk with a number of key stops or observation points that link to a particular number being focused on. One week this could be a walk with four stopping points and the following week it could be a walk with five.

Challenge pupils to observe different numbers of features or things on their walk and agree with them beforehand what these might be. For example: on my walk I am going to see one aeroplane, two blackbirds, three benches and so on. Give pupils a list of features and ask them to decide how they might allocate some given numbers say from one – five or from one – ten. This involves children thinking about the probability of seeing say ten aeroplanes or one daisy compared with ten daisies and one aeroplane. Pupils will have to apply the knowledge they have in order to make sensible predictions.

The book Handa’s Hen is a lovely book to use to develop this kind of work with younger children. Handa and her friend Akeyo find a different number of unexpected animals in each subsequent location they search which offers opportunities for counting and number recognition. They start looking for one black hen and then find two ‘fluttery butterflies’ then three ‘stripey mice’ and so on until they find the hen with ten chicks.

Activity Ideas

  • Tell the children you are going to go on a walk around the school grounds and ask them what they think they will see. Record their ideas. Challenge them to think about what they like and what they don’t like and give each group of children a voice recorder to record their thoughts and a digital camera to record images. Back in class ask pupils to listen back to their own thoughts and either draw pictures or use their photographs to make pages for their own book about the school grounds and/or tell the rest of the class about what their group thought. Using pupils’ starting points about the school grounds, mind map ideas about the parts that pupils didn’t like.
    • Were these all the same?
    • If not why not?
    • Was there something or somewhere that everyone wanted to change?
    • What would pupils like to see?

  • Ask pupils to make models of their ideas for improvements and make a 3D plan of the playground area or school field. Compile an ’emotion map’ of the school grounds or a particular route within it and discuss how this can help us think about which areas we like and which ones we want to change.
    • Which areas felt safe?
    • Which ones felt frightening?
    • Did everyone feel the same? If not why not?
    • What do other people think about these spaces and how could we find out?

    This offers a good opportunity to talk about similarities and differences and our own uniqueness and to build relationships through sharing personal responses to place.

  • Read Toffee’s Night Noises and then carry out a sound walk using digital recorders. Children could either decide beforehand about where they will stop and record sound or it could be done in a less structured way. Ask pupils to predict what they expect to hear. Map the route and record the sounds heard either using a key (and classifying sounds) and/or electronically embedding sound files using mapping software. Pupils could compose a piece of music using instruments to simulate what they have heard and give a performance of their walk to another class.
  • Use different media such as paint, collage, junk modelling etc. to recreate the animals and landscapes apparent from viewing and reading Handa’s Hen. Make a large 2D or 3D imaginary map or plan of Handa’s route.
  • Give the same treatment to The Tiger Child and illustrate points along the Tiger Child’s route to the village with artwork depicting his encounters with other animals. You could also map out his tour of the village and pinpoint the places where he met different villagers who gave him things that made him want to stay there.
  • Both Handa’s Hen and The Tiger Child lend themselves well to drama and role play. Decorate a ‘play corner’ and design and make simple props to re-enact the walks in both stories. Hot seat the main characters after their ‘journeys’ and ask them how they feel.
  • Using the story of Handa’s Hen as a template, write a version of the story for your school grounds and create a route, imagining what creatures you might find along the way e.g. one snail, two robins etc.
  • Tell the story of Titch Out and About and then go on a walk using a large ball of string to mark your route. Have lots of fun unravelling it to find your way ‘home’.


Listen to and value what children have to say about their local area. ‘Living geography’ is a term that reminds us how we are part of real life rather than just being bystanders and that we can all make a difference through the way we think and act.

Encourage children to discuss and put forward ideas for changing aspects of their school grounds and take these ideas to school councils and/or governors. Ensure that an active component is built into planning followed by a review and evaluation so that pupils can try out their ideas and see how well they work. Here is one example of an enquiry framework for planning which puts pupil participation at the heart of an activity:

Download: Enquiry Framework

For example, if pupils ask for more seating in their playground ask them to consider for example: what kind of seating they want, what kind of materials they would like, how much it would cost, where it would be sited and how it could be paid for.

Even the youngest children are more than capable of thinking about and making decisions if given enough confidence and scaffolding.


Use digital cameras, video and audio recorders when undertaking walks. Mobile phones are a simple way of capturing images, videos and sounds when out and about, and many offer a similar recording quality to digital cameras. Recordings can be transferred to your computer via a compatible USB cable or by using a Bluetooth connection (with the aid of a dongle!).

Jonny Davey’s article ‘Smart Geography: Using smartphones to engage young learners‘ (Primary Geographer, 63) shows how mobile phones can be used to raise achievement in geography.

If you are hoping to use Movie Maker or to embed sound files in a PowerPoint you may need to ensure that you record in the proper format – for example Quicktime files may be incompatible and will not always play.

Use online digital mapping programmes to record pupils ideas and routes, such as:

Make a class electronic storybook, perhaps using PowerPoint or Movie Maker using selected images and sound files or use the sound files to write captions (see the ‘My Walk’ presentation above). If you do this, make sure that the sound files are compatible as some formats such as Quicktime can be difficult to use with Windows programs.

Assessment for Learning

Build in time to observe and listen to what children are saying and use talk as a key medium for assessment. The distinctive geographical experiences that you will be offering will be first hand experience of place, enquiry and mapping skills.

The use of pupils’ relevant vocabulary and their growing ability to ask relevant questions will be key indicators as will their growing understanding that maps can be used to represent and communicate real places. Chapter 8 by Colin Bridge in the Primary Geography Handbook gives clear guidance on mapping skills and Simon Catling has this useful guide to the progression of mapping skills:

Download: Progression of Mapping Skills


Remember that displays can and should be created inside and out! As well as the ideas already suggested, use maps and plans and aerial photographs to illustrate children’s work and provide them with examples so that they become familiar. Download and laminate maps from the internet to display out of doors.

If you have been recreating a route from the stories around the playground, illustrate it with examples of pupils’ work and invite other classes to view it, or show it to parents when they come to collect children at the end of the day.

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