When I did a Q&A about our solo trips with our girls, one question that came up a lot was about how I felt comfortable navigating a big city on my own.
One of the great gifts I got from my parents was early training on how to navigate. As I’ve traveled around the world and moved to new places many times, I’ve been endlessly grateful for this early training and I’ve tried to do the same for my girls.
Here are ten simple ways to teach your child how to navigate, whether it’s a museum, a new city, an airport or your own town.
9 Ways to Teach Your Child to Navigate
- Let them get you to the airport gate. I remember my dad doing this since I was a small child. He’d say “We’re flying out of gate B15 – can you get us there?” and then he’d show us how to look at the signs that direct you to the right gate and then the gate numbers once you’re in the right terminal. Now my girls love doing this! Basically nowhere on earth is set up with more signs than an airport, so it’s a perfect way to stop.
- Point out landmarks. I do this in our own city and also when we travel. I’ll say “there’s the library on our right” or “do you know what building this is?” or “Are the mountains on the east or the west?” If we’re traveling, I’ll say “look, this little donut shop is near our hotel. So we know we’re close.” Getting in the habit of paying attention to landmarks and locations is helpful for kids AND adults!
- Help them orient to your location. When I was a junior in high school, my dad took my sisters and me to New York City and he quizzed us about the five different boroughs. I hadn’t known before this that NYC was divided up that way, but now I did. When Ella and I were in New York City, we got on a subway car with a map of the city and we spent the ride looking at how it was laid out – I pointed out where Central Park was, where the 9/11 Memorial was, what neighborhood our hotel was in and where Chinatown was. Seeing it laid out and how the different locations related to each other helps you feel like you’re not just blindly walking around a new place.
- Have them navigate your neighborhood. When we’re coming home either on a walk or a bike ride or in the car, I’ll say, “Okay, when we get to this stop sign, where way are we going to turn?” or “Do you know what street this is?” It takes a while to build a mental map of a location and it’s nice to start practicing that skill early, especially in a place where you spend a lot of time.
- Give them baby steps. Almost all navigation can be broken down into smaller steps, so if having them do the complete job of navigating is too much, let them do a few of the steps. When we were in New York City, I’d figure out which subway line we were taking, but then I’d have Ella find the right platform for us.
- Use a museum or zoo map. Most of us probably don’t use a map for car navigating much these days, but a museum or zoo map is a fantastic way to practice navigating skills! When we were at the Museum of Natural History, Ella was in charge of the map and located the exhibits she wanted to see and then got us to each of them. It wasn’t as fast as if I’d done it myself, but I felt like it was just as educational as the gems hall!
- Have them use Google Maps. When you’ve been using Google Maps forever, it feels like second nature, but I was reminded this fall that it’s a skill like anything else! When Ella was playing soccer and we were going to different soccer fields around the county, I’d tell her the name of where we were going and then have her find it in Google Maps and get the navigation going. The first few times it took FOREVER, but she’s gotten much better at it!
- Walk in a new city. When I lived in London as a college student, we had Tube passes so I went everywhere in the city underground and didn’t have a clue where anything was in relationship to anything else. But when we lived there again when Bart was an MBA student, it was much cheaper to walk or take the bus and being above ground helped me understand the city SO much better. Now it’s one of my favorite things to walk around a city because I feel like it helps me understand it so much better!
- Let them see that it’s okay to make mistakes. Navigating is like most things in life – sometimes you’ll get it wrong. When Ella and I were in New York City, we took the AirTrain from the JFK airport to catch the subway into the city and I missed our stop because I wasn’t paying attention. So we got off, got back on going the other direction and were on our way with only the cost of a few extra minutes. I was glad for her to see that it’s not the end of the world if you get a little lost or make a mistake.