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Environmental-Scale Map Use in Middle Childhood: Links to Spatial Skills, Strategies, and Gender


  • The authors express their sincere thanks to Lacey Hilliard and Danielle Russell for helping to collect data in the summer heat; members of the Penn State Cognitive and Social Development Lab for data coding and entry; Lloyd Rhoades of Penn State's Physical Plant for facilitating the placement of flags on campus; Kim Kastens for providing the Where Are We? software; Roger Downs, Nora Newcombe, and an anonymous reviewer for insightful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript; and to the participating children and parents for their time and enthusiasm. We offer special thanks to Stefania Vescio-Franz for her willingness to be a pilot participant in our research, and for permission to include her photograph in Figure . Portions of this work were presented at the biennial meetings of the Society for Research in Child Development in Toronto, 2011. Partial financial support for the research described here was provided through the National Science Foundation through Grants REC04-11686 and ESI-01-01758, although the opinions presented are those of the authors, and no endorsement by the NSF should be inferred.


Researchers have shown that young children solve mapping tasks in small spaces, but have rarely tested children's performance in large, unfamiliar environments. In the current research, children (9–10 years; N = 40) explored an unfamiliar campus and marked flags' locations on a map. As hypothesized, better performance was predicted by higher spatial-test scores, greater spontaneous use of map–space coordinating strategies, and participant sex (favoring boys). Data supported some but not all hypotheses about the roles of specific spatial skills for mapping performance. Data patterns were similar on a computer mapping task that displayed environmental-scale videos of walks through a park. Patterns of children's mapping errors suggested both idiosyncratic and common mapping strategies that should be addressed in future research and educational interventions.

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