With a homeschooling spread of high school to elementary school, it’s fun now and then to work on an activity together. Long gone are the days of working all together all the time, but we come together whenever we can throughout the week. Making Edible Maps was perfect for my seafaring younger boys and our geography and earth science studying high schoolers.
Choose Your Map Medium
You could go with a salt dough recipe and mold the topography right into the making of the map itself, or you could go with a cookie dough recipe. In the end, my 11th grader suggested it would be a lot more fun to eat the map than to watch it crumble in a corner later on. He and I are always pragmatic.
- Salt Dough– Allows you to mold the land features like you would with playdough or clay. You can also paint the finished map. Storage when complete must be considered.
- Cookie Dough– Edible so long term storage is not necessary. Topographical features are outlined by the drawings on the top of the cookie rather than molded. Instead of painting, you can decorate with icing and other food items.
Either way, I think the take home message here is to make the time to explore something in a fun way. Even when you have high schoolers. When my kids were all little, it was great fun to take an afternoon for something like this. It’s a great learning activity which engages younger kids for a long time. Now it’s fun because they can do it all themselves and I can leave decisions up to them and they get to enjoy it. I get to have fun watching and chatting! When it comes to hands on activities, I have rule of thumb.
Never spend more time on prepping for an activity than your kids will spend doing the activity.
I know some homeschooling moms like to put a lot of time into preparing lots of great activities, but I am very careful on where that energy is spent. If I know a concept is not a major one or that my kids really already get it, I won’t spend the time on it. If they need more help, then it might be worth the time. I found it frustrating when my kids were younger to spend a ton of time preparing games, etc only to see them master the concept in a flash and the activity or the game to quickly become obsolete. So, evaluate where your time is best spent. An edible map combines cooking skills and makes for a fun activity without a lot of mom prep time. That’s a win.
The Cookie Recipe
We used a chocolate chip cookie recipe and made a double batch (measurements for double batch are below) which the kids split once the sheets were baked. It was a nice consistency for map building.
- 2 cups Crisco shortening
- 1.5 cups white sugar
- 1/5 cups brown sugar
- 4 eggs
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp salt
- 4 tsp imitation vanilla
- 6 cups flour
If you want to make the cookies then you can substitute one cup of oatmeal for one cup of the flour and you’ll want a 12 oz bag of chocolate chips. If you want giant flat cookie maps, then leave out the chips and oatmeal.
Grease a baking sheet and bake the sheet cookies at 350* for 9-10 minutes. We used 2 half sheets for baking pans and cut them in half after baking, giving us four maps.
Of course, the quick homeschool mom alternative is to purchase ready made cookie dough or at least the kind in the bag you just mix with liquids. There’s no shame in that!
Choose Your Map
Now that the basic landscape is ready, it’s time to get serious about the area featured on your map. Your students can choose a variety of areas to focus on. For example:
- Continent– this would be a wider scale area for this medium, but the mountain ranges and sea level areas would be easy to see.
- Country– choose a favorite or some other place you are studying this year
- State– wonderful idea for state geography
- National or State park – Niagara Falls would be interesting in salt or cookie dough, don’t you think?
- Local Quandrangle– our high schoolers recently did a project in earth science involving our local area using a USGS map (see link below)
- Fictional Location– what fun to map a world they love in stories. This is a great way to engage kids with books and Grow a Reader.
In the end, of our kids chose to make an edible map of a fantasy world they love. Are your kids creating or immersing themselves in other worlds? Chances are they contain some of the same geographical features you want your kids to notice and remember in this world.
Add Topographic Features to Your Map
My kids are old enough now that I let them decide where to take this. Projects are a lot of fun when you don’t feel like you have to micromanage! If you are doing a salt dough map you’ll be representing topography with the dough itself and painting details. With an edible map, our kids chose icing and other fun edibles to depict the features on their maps. Here are some things they chose to include:
- bodies of water
Some kids chose to use icing of various colors and others used chocolate chips, sprinkles, and squeezable decorator tubes to make the designs. I didn’t do any special shopping for this project, they used what we had on hand. They had fun hunting for items they could use and improvising.
More Topographic Map Links
- The National Map US Topo– A USGS site where you can download quandrangle maps for free. You can find where you live and download a fee topo map.
- Salt Dough Maps Step by Step– In case you are wondering what happens when you choose salt dough over the edible map. We did these when our kids were younger.
- Teaching Geography with Earth Science– An overview of our approach to both courses this year with our 9th and 11th graders.
- Geography Quest Mountain Edition– Exploring the worlds mountains with a look at topographical maps and how to read them.
We’re doing Earth Science this year in conjunction with NorthStar Geography and this is one of the fun activities adapted from the chapter on Topography. It’s been a good combination for us to approach physical geography from the perspective of Earth Science. How do you study physical geography?