DIY Neighborhood Puzzle Map | Student Handouts
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DIY Neighborhood Puzzle Map
DIY Neighborhood Map Puzzle Project for Kids, Parents, and Teachers

One of the simplest ways to teach geography and map-reading to children is to start with small neighborhood maps. We've all seen the printable worksheets, with a few houses and stores lined along streets. These types of worksheets work well, but they lack any bearing on a child's actual physical location. What about the location of the child's actual home or school? What about the actual neighborhood where the child lives?

Organizations like National Geographic offer customized neighborhood puzzle maps for sale (check one out here).  A professional map of a school's neighborhood might be a worthy investment for a classroom teacher.  But the price can really go up once you consider making a map for each child, or a set of neighborhood maps to keep as file folder games.

Creating your own neighborhood puzzle map is quite simple and inexpensive.  The only supplies that you need are your laptop or PC, paper (preferably card stock), printer ink, and scissors.

Neighborhood MAP DIY Puzzle ProjectGo to Google.  Type in an address, then click on the map that comes up in the search results.  You will have a lovely map that pinpoints the location.  (If you want to print a map without the pinpoint, enter an address a few miles away.  For example, type "TOLEDO OHIO 43606" if you want east Toledo, which is zip code 43605, and then pan over on the resulting map to your preferred location.)

Zoom in and out on your map to get the exact area that you want to cover.  The more that you zoom in, the more local features will be uncovered--street names, restaurants, stores, etc.

Open Microsoft Paint on your laptop or PC.

Looking at the screen with your map, click "Ctrl + "PrtScn" on your keyboard.  This will copy everything currently on your screen into an image.  Go to Paint and right click on your mouse.  Choose the option to "Paste."  You will have an image of your computer screen to work with in Paint.  Now, simply crop out the part of the image that you want.

Open a new document in Microsoft word.  You'll want the smallest margins possible, to fit as much of the map on a sheet of paper as possible.  You will probably also want to use the "Landscape" layout as opposed to the "Portrait" layout.

Print your map picture document, preferably using card stock (for durability).  Trim the map to remove the white margins.  You might want to add a compass rose to a corner of your map (easy, since the Google image will automatically be centered with North at the top and South at the bottom).

How to Draw Lines for Puzzle PiecesUsing pencil, draw puzzle pieces on the back of the map.  This is easier than it looks.  The lines for puzzle pieces are simply straight grid lines (like graph paper) that are curved to lock together when cut apart.  You can also print our puzzle pieces directly onto the back of your sheet.

Once you have drawn the lines on the back side of the paper, you can cut the pieces apart and voila, you have a neighborhood puzzle.

If you have access to a laminating machine, you may want to laminate your puzzle before you cut apart the pieces.

Another trick for durability: Print your puzzle on a large sheet of sticker paper. Once the ink has dried, carefully mount your sticker on cardboard (the cardboard that comes with photo frames is usually the perfect size and thickness, but used Priority Mail envelopes and the like work equally well).

Place the pieces for each puzzle in a sealed plastic bag. Remember to label the bag with the type of puzzle it contains, as well as the correct number of pieces (it'll save you time should you need to ascertain that all of the pieces are present).

You can make individual maps for each student, or a set of school neighborhood maps to keep handy as file folder games. This DIY tutorial is not limited to only maps.  Any image can be inexpensively made into a puzzle--family photos, historical images, etc.

Consider including a worksheet along with the puzzle, which students complete after finishing the puzzle.  Ask students tailored questions, such as: "You are at school and headed home.  But you need to stop at Acme Grocery Store for bread, and at Acme Shoe Store for new shoe laces.  What route will you take?"  The student can answer using specific directions.  What a fun way to learn your way around the neighborhood!  We even made one of these for a friend's children during a move, as a fun way to get the kids excited about their new home.  You can even put sticky magnets on the back side of each puzzle piece so that kids can piece together the puzzle on their refrigerator.
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