(Concepts: Maps, Direction, Geometry, Distance)

“Come home when I ring the dinner bell.”

The ’70s was the era of Free Range Kids, Version 1.0.

Kool-Aid was considered fruit juice. Cork-heeled platforms (our summer shoes) were purchased once a summer at Woolworth. We were fascinated with the Merlin handheld game, Atari Space Invaders, and the latest Smurf from Germany.

We had a scattering of friends and rivals about town: some on the other side of the woods, others on the other side of town.

We spent a lot of time along the tracks. They were those beautiful Conrail Freight tracks: those that made you sing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” to yourself as you dreamed into their vanishing perspective. Oh yes. Big things ahead.

5993579075_dec1feb4ea_b

© Lane Pearman (click image for link to his Flickr feed)

Plans were rolled out as follows:

“Meet ya at the creek tunnels,” or “Meet me near the tracks where the old shopping cart is.” How can I get from said tunnels to said tracks in the same afternoon? Cut through the soccer fields? Sneak through Mr. Furman’s back yard? Bike, foot or skateboard? How do I meet the friends while avoiding the rivals? How can I get to Winnie’s house without having to walk past Matt’s?

Every day required a strategic planning session.

But we mastered it. We had it all figured out. Streets were for people who did not get it. Streets were for grownups on which they drove their Buick Lesabres while puffing on menthol cigarettes.

You only had to take a street so far, then cut an angle through so-and-so’s lawn, up past the stone wall, and, bammo! You were behind the Middle School. Grownups were so slow.

To my–now–grownup mind, this is all geometry. 

We all held Google-Earth-like schematics in our minds as we went about our days. We knew the town better than it knew itself.

Last week, as I drove through the winding streets of my childhood village, I was surprised to realize that I recognized every curb, drain, creek, and hillside along the way. They were our meeting places and our shortcuts. Matt’s house now holds another family, so it poses no residual fear to me. The creek tunnels have filled up too much to serve as a shortcut.

Still today I seek shortcuts in my travels. Can I cut from the pharmacy to the school by taking that little road behind the Sonic? I see a lot of people taking that turn. Let me see what happens if I do . . .

I get a feeling of accomplishment when I cut 5 minutes off a journey. Plus, I enjoy the brainstorming meets exploration aspect of shortcut finding.

Projects that combine maps with mathematical/creative thinking:

map

Map of San Francisco ©davecito (click image for link to his Flickr feed)

A. Figure out new shortcuts for your daily trips 

With your child:

• Open a mapping program such as Google Maps.
(Or pull an old map from your archives. You know that pocket in the door of Grandma’s car? That archive. Make a copy or ask if it is OK to color on it.)

• Find the start and endpoints of a trip you take a lot (e.g., driving to school, walking to the library, walking to the subway). Mark.

• If using Google Maps, do not turn on directions/suggested route.

• Print (unless, of course, you are using Grandma’s map)

• Mark your normal route with a highlighter or crayon

• Now look deeper. Can anything be shaved off the route? Could we try a side street? If walking, is there a playground we can cut through?

• Mark up the possible routes with different colors

• As soon as possible, try the new route! See if it is any faster.

• Just for fun: what would be the absolute longest way to get from one point to the other? Be silly, if you’d like.

Even if it is not faster, it will be interesting as you are seeing new sights and trying new things!

B. The geometry of a everyday spaces

I don’t think I am the only one who stands in the parking lot and judges to which corral I should return my cart. This one is a bit closer, but it means I need to go around that truck. That one is farther, but really easy to get to . . .

© Daniel Oines

© Daniel Oines (click image for link to his Flickr feed)

These are on-the-fly projects that are done during your daily life.

I trust you will come up with many more, but I have listed a couple as suggestions:

• At a parking lot: When ready to return the cart, ask your child which corral is closer? Which would be easier? Why?

• In the city: Have your child judge which subway stop or bus stop is closer from any given location.
For the older student: Does it save time, or is it taking you out of the way of your final destination (e.g., subway stop A is closer to home, but subway stop B is one stop closer to downtown, so it’s actually quicker in the long run to go to subway stop B. Discuss.)

• In a store: Which check-out counter is closest to the door? Can you design the shopping trip so it leads to that checkout counter? For example, if we shop the store from left to right, we end up back at the door with all of our goodies – ready to check out.

Keep those young minds fresh by seeing everyday things as fun problems that can be solved or improved upon!

Confessions of an Early STEAM Kid: Maps and Shortcuts (plus fun project ideas)