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X marks the spot

January 26, 2010

One of the best things about being a parent is not having to be a teacher. I don’t mean that I don’t teach him anything, but that I don’t have to stick to a curriculum. Rather, when AJ starts talking about something, I can be there to give him the tools that will allow him to explore it on his own. This doesn’t always work, of course. I don’t always know where to turn.

AJ has been very interested in maps, city plans and architecture for some time and in that order. He doesn’t act out other worlds like I did when I was a child. He wants to visualize them, to create them. This has been a long term interest. Those of you who have been reading for a while may remember Cityopolis. Over the last year or so, I’ve found trying to appeal to the spatial, the creative and the geographic sides of this has been a bit challenging. But some things have been very successful and I thought others might be interested. A few books we’ve loved:

Map Mania! gets at the navigation aspect of maps and has some great projects. AJ drew maps of his room, his school and our neighborhood.

Scholastic Atlas of the World is your basic atlas, but with text about the terrain and cultures of the areas it shows as well.

Small Worlds: Maps and Mapmaking by Karen Romano Young. This was an impulse buy from the sale table at the Scholastic booksale at AJ’s school last year. It has more than paid for itself. This book has captured AJ’s imagination like none of the others (and mine too, come to think of it). It talks not just about the procedures of map making (e.g., the process of mapping from satellite photos), but also the philosophy. How do you make a map to show what you need and not what you don’t? It talks about philosophies of different methods of turning the 3-D into the 2-D.It talks about mapping space as well as earth. And it talks about diagrams as ways of mapping other types of information. What I love about this book is that it’s both a book of data and a book of ideas.

In the fiction category, AJ has also been interested in books that involve traveling or that feature maps in some way. His favorite is Douglas Evans’ MVP. He also loves examining the maps in Trenton Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society and Winnie the Pooh (although he’s never much cared for reading Pooh). I haven’t yet introduced him to The Hobbit, but I’m sure he’ll love the maps there as well.

AJ also loves a computer program that he was introduced to a couple of years ago in school (alas, I’m not sure of its name) that allows them to create maps, name streets, add buildings and legends. Whenever they have free choice in computer lab, that is what he will do. He has dozens of these computerized maps of imaginary towns where all the streets are named after planets or his friends or made up words, his friends all live next door and there are many parks.

In the last week or two, though, AJ has been more interested in the architecture part. This was fueled at least in part by his fabulous (and, sadly, soon-to-be-pink slipped) art teacher who introduced them to Frank Lloyd Wright. AJ already knew about Wright because, well we live in Chicago and there are a lot of Wright buildings out here, but also from reading Blue Balliett’s The Wright Three, which involves a Wright Building on my university campus. But since working on Wright at school, he’s been desperate to build a 3-D kind of house. He has rejected Legos as the medium. He wanted more flexibility.

Then when were were talking about 3-D animation the other day, I started to tell him about Auto-CAD, which his uncle uses to create computer models of his engineering work, and he was desperate to try it. Auto-CAD is a very expensive and complicated program, but fortuitously, while exploring the new Google for Educators site, I stumbled across Google’s SketchUp, a completely free and extremely cool 3-D modeling program. So Saturday morning, instead of fighting about how much time AJ had been playing video games, we designed the first phase of Box City:

This is just a jpeg of our town. The program itself allows you to zoom in and rotate the scene so you can look at it from above or below or any side. We are just getting started and learning our way around, but it appears that animation is possible in this program as well. Measurement tools allow for precision if that’s important to you, but you can (as we did) ignore them and create more free-form structures.

Other projects, besides simple map drawing, that AJ has love have included a topographical map of the United States that he made at school using cardboard, papier mâché, and poster paint; and city building with plain old blocks or Legos or both. And while AJ generally prefers his Lego’s to be unprogrammed (in a big tub, not in a kit to make something in particular), he was very interested in the Lego kit of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater that we saw at the Museum of Science and Industry last week.

What about you: do you have any maps, books or projects about maps and architecture that you’ve enjoyed?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. freshhell permalink
    January 26, 2010 1:49 pm

    This makes me laugh because my post mentions The Calder Game. Dusty likes maps in books and TCG has one of the English village. She likes to design interior spaces which usually works itself out in the Webkinz site online or playing Barbies and reinventing the barbie houses/spaces. I personally love atlases and wish I had more of them.

  2. January 26, 2010 2:36 pm

    I love maps too. Mistress Masham’s Repose has a lovely endpaper map that I used to study at length.

    My sister-in-law has done some map projects:

    And she references this wonderful site:

  3. January 26, 2010 4:26 pm

    The site looks good.

    Pook just read MVP and loved it too. He’s always drawing and is into, but I’ll introduce him to sketchup sometime. I don’t have any other sources I can think of offhand.

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