Core units: Foundation Year — Exemplars

Illustration 2: Mental Maps

Curriculum overview

The Australian Curriculum: Geography (and its various HASS-based iterations) content descriptions addressed in the illustration are:

  • The representation of the location of places and their features on maps and a globe
  • The places people live in and belong to, their familiar features and why they are important to people
  • The reasons why some places are special to people, and how they can be looked after

Learning goals

All of us have mental maps of the places familiar to us. Children develop mental maps of the layout of their houses, and progress to the layout of the places they move within. At the same time, they develop mental maps (not necessarily accurate) of places they have never visited, from indirect experiences such as television and other people, and also of the mythical places in the stories told or read to them.
The illustration-specific learning goals include:

  • developing a greater understanding of features of the local area
  • developing observational and representational skills
  • developing the skills involved in translating mental ideas into concrete objects and onto paper
  • developing verbal communication skills in describing their local places.

Geographical understanding and context

This activity brings together the content and skills of geography by encouraging students to think about what they know of the places in their local area, and then representing this knowledge in a variety of forms. It also encourages them to examine and express their own feelings about places which are special to them and others.

Teaching approaches

A number of activities can be undertaken, starting from making simple mental maps and progressively moving to more complex ones. For example, make a mental map of:

1. Home
Children might start by using concrete objects (boxes, toys etc) to represent part of their house or room. Discuss with the children the idea of drawing what the inside of their house looks like from a different viewpoint (above, sideways etc). For example, they might draw their bedroom with the walls drawn from above, but the bed and furniture drawn from the side. A photograph or video of a place in their home could help children to see it from different perspectives.

2. Places in the school
In this activity, ask students to use tangible materials (boxes, cardboard) to represent places in their school. Some students could progress from this to draw a map of the parts of the school that they are familiar with. This further develops the skills addressed in the first activity (above). The point of this activity is not how much they know, but which places in the school are important to each of them individually.

Encourage students to try to represent (on paper) each of the places in the school that are important to them. Again, some will represent them by lines, some by colours, and some by their own symbols. You could photograph objects from above and from the side to make children aware of the differences.

3. The way from home to school
This is a more difficult activity and will produce variable results. Some students will walk to school with a parent or caregiver, others will be driven, providing them with a different perspective of places they pass on the way.

A starting activity could focus on which places in the local area are most familiar to each child. This could be an individual drawing activity, or it could involve a discussion of digital photographs you have taken of nearby places.

Suggest to the class that they should be showing things of interest to them on their journey, and their finished product might be a kind of map (for example, a story map) which could tell other people about their journey.

The discussion during the activity should include encouragement for each child to think about the information they hold in their mind (mental maps) about the places around them.

Representation of places can be by bird’s-eye view or by eye-level sketch. This will depend on the developmental level of the map skills of each child.

During the drawing, or afterwards, there can be discussion about special places, significant places, and looking after places. Children could be asked to put gold stars on their favourite places, or red stars on dangerous places.

4. Extension
Mental maps can be drawn of imaginary places that children have heard about in stories or films. Stories that are related to place characteristics, including fairy tales (such as Three little pigs, Little red riding hood and Three billy goats gruff) could all be used as the basis for drawing a map which the child visualises as fitting the story. Stories told by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can also be useful.

This could then lead to discussions of each child’s favourite places (either in stories or reality) and of any places which provoked other feelings such as fear, excitement, pleasure or warmth.

What you need

  • Large sheets of paper.
  • Materials for drawing, writing and making models and maps (such as pens, pencils, crayons, boxes, toys and stickers).

Time frame: The activities could be spread over a week or two among other activities.

Curriculum connections

This illustration links with the content descriptions of the following Phase 1 Australian Curriculum.


  • Understand that language can be used to explore ways of expressing needs, likes and dislikes
  • Respond to texts, identifying favourite stories, authors and illustrators


  • Sort, describe and name familiar two-dimensional shapes and three-dimensional objects in the environment
  • Sort and classify familiar objects and explain the basis for these classifications. Copy, continue and create patterns with objects and drawings
  • Describe position and movement


  • Explore and make observations by using the senses
  • Share observations and ideas
  • Engage in discussions about observations and use methods such as drawing to represent ideas


  • Distinguish between the past, present and future


  • Episodes of the animated television series Dora the Explorer. These can be accessed in a variety of formats such as video and on the Internet.
  • Fictional stories which include maps.
  • Fairy stories, legends, and stories told by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  • Books:
    • Fanelli, S. (1995). My map book. London: Walker Books. Colourful examples of children’s maps.
    • Ritchie, S. (2009). Follow that map. Ontario: Kids Can Press. This is a first book of mapping skills for early readers.
    • Rosen, M. & Oxenbury, H. (1989). We’re going on a bear hunt. London: Walker Books. This children's illustrated book has been used successfully for descriptive journeys of adventure.
    • Sweeney, J. (1996). Me on the map. New York: Dragonfly Books. This is a picture book written specifically for young learners.