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How to Set Up a Community Map Challenge Like a Pro

I love how geography and art overlap in Classical Conversations! It’s been great for us and I want to share it with you.   You can use it in your community or just in your own home. I’ll tell you how we structure the challenge, how I determine the goal number, how we track maps traced, and what I tell the parents.

Update! I now have one of my own children going through Challenge A! Here’s how we’re working through cartography!

Why Have a Map Challenge?

But first, I have to tell you: I REALLY love having a community-wide map challenge- let me count the reasons why:

  1. It encourages kids to trace maps in class instead of getting sidetracked doodling with their dry erase marker.
  2. It encourages kids to trace maps at home. I think all homeschool parents (CC or not) probably want their kids to practice map tracing at home, but we have to pick our battles. If the kids aren’t motivated to do this, it’s often allowed to slide (I know it would be in our house).
  3. Tracing maps in the younger years prepare our CC kids for Challenge A (7th grade) when they work on freehand drawing the whole world.  Several former ChA students have confided in me that they wish they’d traced those maps more when they were younger!
  4. It helps cement the geography memory work for that week. Just saying the location names while we point to them is ok, but this combines a great kinesthetic element to the review that will make all the difference for some kids to get the places memorized.
  5. It helps us learn more about the location and what’s around it. When you’re tracing the map, you become more aware of its shapes relative to the locations and features around it. For example, I had this idea in my mind that Spain was west of France. When we were tracing maps a few years ago, I realized it’s actually southwest of France! Granted, my knowledge of geography was seriously lacking prior to CC, but I’m sure you’ll have some realizations of your own, no matter how great your current knowledge level is.
  6. It helps develop fine motor skills for handwriting and art.
  7. It helps parents realize what a valuable tool tracing really can be.
  8. It helps you score higher at Stack the Countries, a favorite app of ours.

How to Organize a Community Map Challenge

First, I have to give credit for this idea to my previous director, Sandy Nelson. She did it and it helped my own kids learn their geography soooo much!! When I started directing my own CC community in 2014, I incorporated it and created a fun graphic.

On Community Day

The tutor introduces the new geography grammar during class and shows the students how to trace the map that week. We use a copy of the map in the CC Foundations Guide, inserted into a “heavy gauge secure top sheet protector” and a dry erase pen. It also works great to use the CC Geography Trivium Tables. (I prefer the sheet protectors because it’s so easy for parents to duplicate at home and I can afford to buy new ones each year.)  The tutors give the kids one or two minutes to trace a few maps in class, write their numbers down and then move on with the day. At lunch, each tutor gives me the number of maps they did in class and I add this to the total.

dry erase sheet protectors
Tracing with a dry erase marker on a map in sheet protector

At Home

I recommend to the parents that their students do 10 maps a day, 4 days a week

I explain to the kids and parents, that 1 map = saying that week’s geography while tracing the item. To say it another way, whatever the CC Foundations guide has as one week of Geography grammar is what we call one ‘map.’

  • So in cycle 2, week 1, we’re memorizing the continents and oceans. For the oceans I just have them put a mark on each ocean, but I have them trace each full continent. This ends up being one of our longest maps to trace.  
  • For something like week 5, where it’s all cities, they just have to put a dot on each city so it’s a very fast week.
  • In week 4, when we trace some rivers, the kids are just drawing the line of the river.  

I figure it all balances out.  

Ultimately, it’s up to the parents to decide what counts as a map. I don’t worry about it too much. The kids are welcome to trace previous weeks’ maps for review and I encourage younger siblings to trace too (most three-year-oldschi can do this).   Parents can track the number of maps their children trace however they see fit. If they would like, they can use my Personal Map Tracker and my Family Map Tracker (available as a freebie below!).  

I also encourage moms to count any blob mapping they did at home. I love Brandy Ferrell’s explanation of this in her post about blob mapping at Half-a-Hundres Acre Wood. I always direct our tutors and our moms there for more info.

During Our Opening Meeting

I ask each family how many maps they did that week. I type each number into my calculator as I’m standing there, announce the week’s total, write in on my “Director’s Map Tally” sheet, and shade in the appropriate number of boxes in our graphic. (If that sounds too complicated for you, ask another parent to help you type numbers into the calculator and write the number down. You can always shade in the graphic at home and show it next week in class.) 

Every map traced is celebrated as a contribution to our community goal. We never try to make the kids feel like they are competing against each other.  There are always some kids that are doing A LOT of maps and some who are doing less, but that’s ok. When we meet our goal, I buy ice cream for everyone! I love the camaraderie it creates!

map challenge in progress

Here it is! I’m so happy to share this great map tracking PDF graphic with you. (The images behind the graphic are my own personal artwork and are protected by copyright. Please contact me if you have any questions about the use of them!)

community map challenge

This graphic is also available for $4.99 in my store. If you purchase the file, you get the PDF plus a fully editable Microsoft Word version.

I like to print one graphic per semester on card stock and have my director’s tally sheet on the back. So, this year I’ll print the 10,000 maps page for the first semester. I print the second one on another piece of card stock for the second semester and staple it on top of the first so my tally sheet doesn’t get separated from the graphic. The Word document is totally unlocked so you can change the numbers, font, and the images behind the bar graph! Have fun with it! If you find a new creative use for it, please share it with me. You can find me here or on Facebook.

How High to Set the Bar

We do this as a whole community, but you could do it as a single class too.  The recommended 5-10 maps a day works out to 20-40 maps a week. Multiply this by 23 weeks (so you can be done on day one of week 24) to get 460-920 per student per year.  So, I suggest you use this formula to determine the map goal of the year (cut the number in half for the semester):

(# of students) x 750 = maps for the year 

During cycle 3, our 16 students did 5,000 maps the first semester (state and capitals) without too much trouble. Then we continued the count for the second semester and I challenged the students to make it to 15,000 total maps (an extra 10,000)!  It took extra dedication, but they made it.  The next year, with cycle 1, we only had 10 students, but they were able to make it to 5,806 maps in the first semester and to 12,004 maps for the year. These kids have become mapping masters!! This year we have 24 students so I plan to set the annual goal at 20,000. Yes, it will stretch them- that’s the point.

Time to Celebrate!

When our community reaches its semester goal, I throw an ice cream party! Rest assured, I keep this stick-in-the-sand simple. We just meet at a local park and I bring an ice chest of ice cream sandwiches. The kids play while the moms talk and no one really had to do a lot of planning. You could easily combine this with a Christmas party and the End Of Year event instead.

Now Go Plan a Map Challenge!

Update: Communication

A CC Director asked how I communicate this all to the moms in our community. I talk about it at orientation and have this text in our handbook:

  • Announcements- Map Challenge: Each time the student draws or traces one week’s geography grammar, while saying the place out loud, counts as one map. Tally up the number of maps your students draw or trace at home. We’ll add them up as a community and have an ice cream party when we reach our goal!

Since all our tutors model this on community day in New Grammar, parents and students usually get the hang of it quickly.   Now you’re fully equipped to plan a map challenge in your own community! 

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  1. Anonymous says:


  2. Jaime Brackett says:

    This is such a fun and worthwhile idea! Thank you for your detail and for sharing! Time to trace!

    1. Julie Abels says:

      You’re welcome!

  3. I am a new CC director and only a second year CC mom. Do kids really trace their maps 10 times a day? That seems so high. Am I missing something? Thank your for sharing your hard work with us. Much appreciated!

    1. Julie Abels says:

      If doing something like this feel overwhelming, skip it till next year! It’s totally not a requirement. Yes, most kids trace 5-10 maps a day in under 5 minutes. Once they get the hang of it, it will usually take 20-30 seconds to trace one map.

  4. Do you have this as a PDF? I got the download but the formatting is all messed when I open it on my Mac. Thanks!

    1. Julie Abels says:

      Sure! email me at Julie@RidgeLightRanch.com and I’ll send it to you.
      I have both a PC and a Mac and I often wonder what the demand is for documents on both…

  5. Laura Kellum Chastain says:

    I joined by email, but the drop box won’t work for me. Please help. m1chaz@aol.com

      1. Laura Kellum Chastain says:

        Haha, guess what?? At week 19, we are over 20,000. Got a higher number? OR shall I tack a 10.000 on to this? 5,000? My community is SO ready for this!

        1. Julie Abels says:

          Great idea! I don’t have one over 20,000 yet but I’ll work on it! What number do you suggest? 30,000?

          1. Laura Kellum Chastain says:

            I missed the communication on this. We ended up with 27,000+ Our community had 28 students. so, 30,000 would have worked for me. This year I have 40 students.

          2. how many students did you have this past year? Maybe a better question would be, how big a map graphic would be best for this coming year? You can always use one per semester as well.

  6. Any other ideas for rewards?

  7. Kate Slotman says:

    So are they turning in physical maps traced? Or do they use a dry erase and trace/erase and repeat the 10 times a day? What do you do if your community doesn’t reach the goal?

    1. No, I do not collect anything. (that would be too crazy!) The students use dry erase at home.
      I’ve never had my community not make the goal, but knowing me, I would stay positive and encourage them that I’m sure they could get it next time. You could set smaller, quarterly goals if you’re unsure about how high to set them… This year, 2017-2018, we have 16 students and they had no problem reaching 10,000 maps before Christmas. 🙂

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