Ant communities can help children understand maps. It all depends on how you look at them, says Sam Woodhouse
One of the main curriculum objectives in primary geography is to enable pupils to start learning how to make maps. This involves making the difficult conceptual leap from seeing places from our normal horizontal viewpoint, to seeing places from above. Ant villages are perfect for this.
This lesson is best done outdoors on a fine day, or if teachers go foraging for material outside first, it can be done inside, preferably on the floor. It's a group activity for up to six children and is aimed at key stage 1.
Tell the children that they are going to make a village for ants (or if the children come from an urban area use the concept of neighbourhood).
Discuss what they like about their immediate area. What might ants like? Some houses, a school, roads, a park or even a swimming pool?
For each group, mark out a defined space on the grass or floor, with a hoop or string, about a metre across. Ask them to collect materials - twigs, leaves, bits of bark or silver paper - and construct their own village.
Encourage lots of talking, questioning and creativity. The constructions don't have to be perfect, but the villages need to be half-way sensible.
When the villages are complete, lead a guided tour around them, with lots of time for the children to explain what's happening and admire.
Then, say it's nearly the end of the lesson. The ant villages will be gone by tomorrow, so how can we record and remember them? They might suggest a photo, in which case enable them to take it from different angles. Or they might want to draw it. Suggest the best way to do this is from above and, lo and behold, they have a map.
You will end up with wonderful display material that children can talk about and show visitors for the rest of the term.
Sam Woodhouse is an associate consultant for geography at Somerset LEA and a former primary teacher.