Using journey sticks on a familiar walk is the starting point for the most valuable experience to understand and create maps, which opens up a whole world of adventure and exciting learning opportunity. Getting familiar with your local green spaces is perfect for develop mapping skills, and provides children with an understanding of their local environment and a connection with the nature around them.

It is not the map that should make sense of the land, but the land
that will make a map for us. *

Start with your daily walk, following the Native American tradition of using journey sticks to mark the way.IMG_5063

Did you know…? The journey stick acted as a memory aid for travellers to find their way across harsh and rugged landscapes. Use your stick to create a vertical map, with items placed in order from top to bottom, each item giving a reminder of a turning or landmark on the journey. Journey sticks are also used to represent ‘chapters’ of a spoken story, each item a cue to direct the tale as it unfolds.

Carry a stick each, short or long, found or ‘borrowed’ from a broom or other household use. Attach treasures along the way, marking the stages of your journeying. At each stage of the journey stop, take a long deep breath, look around, listen, and share what you notice. Use all your senses to take in what’s around you.

He was all quietness. We had been all bustle.*

Look around to find a natural item to collect and attach on your stick; a leaf from a nearby tree, a blade of grass as you cross the field. The nimble fingered can tie these on with a length of string wound around the stick and knotted at intervals to secure the treasure.  For easier attaching, place a few elastic bands around the stick and tuck each treasure under the elastic. Add a ribbon or coloured band to personalise. The sticks themselves become works of art, much treasured and photographed to remember them at their prime, and to compare as they change with the curling, wilting and dropping of leaves and grasses over time.

A lucky few found a feather along the way, and others added to their treasures later with a man-made feather, using a piece of wire and two strips of masking tape.


Next time take your journey stick along on your walk, retrace your steps, remembering how the items on your stick relate to the environment around you. Which way do we go from here? Point in the right direction.
Try making your journey backwards, or pointing out the features you pass as you travel along.

Repeat the journey a few days or a week later to find out what has changed and what is the same? Which features are permanent and make good markers for your journey, and which are changeable and could lead to being sent off in the wrong direction. How have the sounds and smells changed? Which parts of the journey have remained strongly in your memory?

Even the best maps deliberately leave off nearly all of the detail in a landscape…don’t make the mistake of thinking that the map tells you all that you can see in your surroundings.*

Create a ‘muddy map’ of your journey outside on the floor, using natural treasures and found objects to represent features from your journey. Sticks can be used for paths, leaves for important trees, stones for buildings in any creative way you wish.  Talk about the map, talking through which parts of your journey are shown. This creates a great deal of insightful chatter about drawing and using maps.

Retrace the journey, using your imagination this time. Maybe you noticed a bird earlier along the way, flying overhead or observing from a tree. Decide which type of bird you are going to be (flying birds please: no penguins or ostriches or this part of won’t get off the ground!) Shake your feathers, unfold your wings and take off, up overhead, above the buildings and trees.

pixabay in Visualise section and not a big map picture in Share section bird-638112__340
Start by thinking about the places you visited on your journey. With eyes closed, talking through your journey, retracing your steps, but this time from above looking down on your pathway. What can you see? What do landmarks look like from above? What can you hear? Follow the journey in your imagination: feeling the weather, hearing the sounds, seeing the tops of the trees and the shapes of the path, the buildings, water, and all the places you passed. Describe the images you can see in your mind and how different features look from a bird’s eye view.

At the end of your journey come down safely to land, shake out your feathers and open your eyes. This imaginative journey is an important stage in understanding a bird’s eye view and how maps are drawn.

Draw your own bird’s eye view map on a big piece of paper, using colours and shared or newly created symbols for your key.



  • Go back on your journey with your map to check the positions of the features you have drawn.
  • Look at different maps and compare them to your own. How are they the same or different?
  • Introduce measurement and scale, and compass direction.
  • Guide others on a journey or set each other orienteering, treasure hunting and clue finding activities. Children who are familiar with a space and able to use a map have endless opportunities for adventures in outdoor and active learning.
  • Create new journey maps and imaginative journeys for story-telling about the places you can’t visit at the moment.

Louise Graham
Dragonfly Wood

*Quotes from Tristan Gooley: The Walker’s Handbook







2 thoughts on “Muddy Maps

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