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Posted by on Aug 12, 2015 in Tell Me Why |

How Do You Read a Paper Map?

How Do You Read a Paper Map?

Most kids don’t think much about exactly how they get from Point A to Point B during a trip. Once you start navigating the world on your own, though, you’ll need to know some basic navigational skills to keep from getting lost or being late.

If you’re a technologically-savvy kid, you might think that all you’ll need is either your smartphone or a Global Positioning System (GPS) device in your vehicle. Thanks to modern technology, those devices can certainly help you get where you want to go. However, when electronic services fail, you’ll want to make sure you have the necessary skills to interpret a good, old-fashioned paper map.

Paper maps come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colors. They can cover a large area, such as a globe that shows the entire Earth, or they can cover smaller areas, such as a country, a state, a city, or the smallest details of the trails that traverse a small section of forest.

If you’re going to successfully navigate your way from Point A to Point B using a paper map, you’ll need to know the basics of how to read the information contained in all those lines and symbols on the map. To get started with a paper map, first look at the legend located on the map.

The legend, sometimes called the key, will tell you basic information about the map, including what all the symbols on the map mean. For example, the legend might indicate that dashed lines are borders between counties, while thick, red lines indicate interstate highways.

After becoming familiar with the map’s legend, you’ll want to check the map’s orientation and scale. Most maps feature an orientation with north at the top of the map. This helps you determine the direction you must travel to get where you want to go.

A map’s scale indicates how distance on the map equates to distance in the real world. For example, a map might have a scale that equates to one inch equals one mile. Using the scale, you can estimate that two cities that are five inches apart on the map are five miles apart in the real world.

Maps also use colors to communicate information. If you see an area on a map that’s blue, there’s a good chance it’s a body of water. Likewise, green areas are often forests, while white areas are regular land. With these basics in mind, you can use a paper map to help you figure out where you are and the best route to get you where you want to be.

Content for this question contributed by Kristin Jo Lind, resident of, Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio, USA