Every 12-year-old in Britain could receive a map of their local area this autumn.
Ordnance Survey is giving pupils in 7,800 schools the opportunity to get to grips with their neighbourhood using the traditional 1:25,000-scale maps. All teachers have to do is place an order.
Children are expected to know how to read a map by the time they are 14. Map work, route planning and the use of symbols and keys are supposed to be taught at primary school.
The use of the maps was first tested in six schools by University College Northampton.
Researchers found schools' supply of maps varied considerably. In one, children were using maps from 1974. Not all schools could offer each child a copy. More than 80 per cent of first-year pupils had never heard of Ordnance Survey.
Nearly all children had used a map and more than 90 per cent said their family owned one. A quarter of children owned an atlas.
Only one in 10 believed they understood maps "very well", but mapping was overwhelmingly seen as a vital and fun skill.
Cherry Matthews, head of North Leamington school, Leamington Spa, which took part in the survey, said: "It was particularly valuable for the pupils to have their own local area map which they could use to identify their house.
"Many of the children took their maps home and used them to go out on visits with their parents."
At another school, a parent was so surprised that his child had received the gift, he rang the school to check it was true.
Vanessa Lawrence chief executive of Ordnance Survey, a government agency, said: "Often access to maps is controlled by adults, with children only allowed to look under guidance. What better way to get round this than by giving them their own maps to keep?" She said the scheme, giving away pound;5 million-worth of maps, was prompted by the need to make more maps available at a time when they are increasingly important in the national curriculum.
Schools can place orders for maps at www.ordnancesurvey.co.ukeducation