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Every School Should Have a Playground Map!


Curriculum Center

Playground maps are great teaching tools! Thanks to Ed Bonne, "the Playground Map Guy," many kids soom might have a new addition to their playgrounds.

If Ed Bonne had to write a "What I did on my summer vacation" essay, he'd tell of traveling around the country painting U.S. maps on asphalt lots at dozens of schools!

Ed Bonne is a second-grade teacher in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, but he's better known to school principals around the United States as the ""Playground Map Guy." Bonne has been painting U.S. maps on school playgrounds for years. He's painted hundreds of playground maps!

"I did my first playground map in 1987," Bonne recalls. "I had seen an article and a photograph of a playground map on the cover of Weekly Reader. I decided that I wanted one at my school, so I painted it. When other principals saw it, they wanted one at their schools too!"

Bonne blows into town with his map stencils, his paint, and his paintbrushes. He lays down his wooden stencils and spray paints a series of stenciled dots on the asphalt. Then he uses traffic zone paint to connect the huge dot-to-dot map.

Four hours later, Bonne blows out of town leaving behind a beautiful U.S. map---and a booklet chock-full of activities that will help teachers across the grades make use of the new addition to their school.

For the price, which schools can share if Bonne is painting more than one map in the area, there is no more valuable teaching tool than one of Ed Bonne's playground maps!

"All that's required," says Bonne, "is a plot of asphalt in a safe area that's large enough. If the map is to be painted to scale, I need an area about 50 feet wide so students can see how far away Hawaii is from the continental states and how large Alaska is."

"Whenever possible, I like to paint my playground maps so they correspond to the natural points of the compass," Bonne adds. But that's not always possible because safe asphalt play areas in schoolyards are at a premium. Bonne has painted playground maps in parking lots, on basketball courts, and---in rare instances---on asphalt lots made just for maps!

One of Bonne's favorite U.S. maps is at a school in the state of Washington. There, a crack in the paved lot on which he painted the map falls almost exactly in the position of the Continental Divide!



"If your school PTA or a group of parent volunteers wants to paint a playground map for your school, the key to producing a good playground map is to first make a pattern out of construction or butcher paper," Bonne says. "You can buy pre-drawn stencils from several companies, but some of those stencils can cost hundreds of dollars."

"The painting of a large-scale map is relatively simple, but it can be a time-consuming endeavor," he warns.

"For smaller maps, such as state maps," Bonne adds, "I suggest making a pattern of a map that you have projected in the size you want on a large wall, such as in the gym. Outline the shape you want, then fill in the details when you actually paint it."

Bonne has some simple suggestions based on his experience for anybody planning to paint their own playground maps:


  • Paint your map on asphalt. Although concrete is generally smoother and therefore better for chalk drawing, traffic zone (paving) paint tends to "bubble" on concrete in a shorter period of time. On asphalt, the paint could last up to ten years under normal circumstances.


  • When painting, use a brush that will give you a line about 1 inch wide. A smaller brush will not apply enough paint to wear well. A larger brush will not allow you to outline the states as accurately as you might want.


  • Try to place your map on a spot where you can paint it with the proper directional orientation. And try to place your map in an area where you can include Hawaii and Alaska in their correct size and location relative to the 48 contiguous states.


  • If possible, try to place your map in a relatively protected area. You will be amazed how often you can use the map, even in winter, if you are in a spot that is reasonably comfortable and away from the wind.


  • Avoid painting in the names of the states. Let the students do that as an activity. Remember this is an activity center, not a giant wall map laid flat.


  • I would suggest that you try to use a scale of 1 inch to 10 miles. That will make your map about 30 feet wide from Maine to California, which will allow you to paint the map well within the size of a normal elementary school gym, should you want a map inside.



"A large-scale map provides a 'clean slate' on which students can do all kinds of activities," says Bonne. "Students can practice place-name and location geography. They can paint major political, physical, or other geographic information on the map. State names and their capitals are usually a good first activity to do with students."

Bonne recommends using tempura paints for playground map activities. "This paint comes in a variety of colors and is easily washable," he says. "Provided with brushes, students can paint pictures or symbols of virtually anything that the class is studying. If your map's surface is fairly smooth, students could use chalk to illustrate different places."

"The list of possible teaching activities for a playground map is endless," Bonne adds. Check out Playground Map Activities for activities from Ed Bonne's files!



About Ed Bonne
Ed Bonne currently teaches at Lakeview High School in St. Clair Shores (Michigan). Prior to that position, Bonne was a second grade teacher for mroe than a dozen years and a high school history and geography teacher for 14 years. Bonne also is active in the Michigan Geographic Alliance.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 2004 Education World



Updated 10/29/2014