Stage 3: Learning Directions and Using a Map

Location: City and Residential Streets
Length of Lesson: 30 minutes

We all learn by doing. If we could learn by sitting and watching, teaching your teen to drive would be a cakewalk because they’ve sat and watched you drive for years. As we all know, watching someone drive isn’t the same thing as actually driving.

The same is true for learning driving directions. Despite having driven your teen from your house to the mall hundreds of times, they probably couldn’t give you directions on how to get there. They may also be unable to make the drive alone because they simply haven’t paid attentions to the street signs. You can’t blame them, can you? Why would they need to know these directions if they have a personal slave…er…a loving parent to drive them around!

The purpose of these exercises is to teach your teen how to follow directions.

Never Eat Shredded Wheat

When I was in grade school, they taught us how to remember the order of cardinal directions with the simple mnemonic, “Never Eat Shredded Wheat.” However, knowing which way is “North” at any given time may not be as easy as remembering a mnemonic. When I was a new driver, I had absolutely no idea which direction I was headed. This led to many late arrivals. I had to constantly ask for turn-by-turn directions in order to get anywhere. It wasn’t until I sat down with a map that I became more confident.

Therefore, it’s time to start teaching your teen which direction the roads run in your town. So, while you’re driving around town, tell them. For example, if you turn onto a new road, say, “We’ve just turned onto Olive Blvd which runs east-west. So, we’re now headed east.”

When your teen is about to make a turn, ask them the new direction they’ll be going after the turn. For example, “We’re headed east on Olive. We’re about to take a right onto Lindemann, so which way will we be headed on Lindemann?” (South).

Follow the Directions

Another exercise you should do with your teen is to print out turn-by-turn directions to a new location. Try to make it somewhere your teen would actually like to go and also make sure you haven’t gone there before (as that would ruin the point of the exercise). You should play the role of “navigator”. For example, give them directions such as, “Head east on Manchester for about 5 miles. Then take Kirkwood Rd south for about 3 miles.”

It’s up to your teen to locate the street signs and make the appropriate turn based upon the cardinal directions you’ve given them.

For the advanced student, have them retrace their way home without giving them any directions. Remember, these are real-world skills. I’m sure you can’t even remember the number of times have you traveled to a friend’s house with simple directions and then made your way back home without a “return” set of instructions.

Learn to Read a Map

With a plethora of websites that will provide turn-by-turn directions, it may seem archaic to teach your teen how to read a map. The opposite couldn’t be more true. While a turn-by-turn guide provides a map in the event of an unexpected road closure, it doesn’t outline every possible detour scenario. You would need to plot one yourself using the map. But, if you can’t even figure out where you are on a map at any given time, the map is completely useless.

You must teach your teen how to use a map. We suggest the following exercise:

  • Drive to a random location. Don’t tell your teen where you’re going. You could blindfold them, but I think they’ll zone out enough that it won’t matter. Plus, I can’t think of a single teenager that would put up with that.
  • Stop the car and hand them a map.
  • Have your teen figure out where you are.
  • Ask them to plot a course back home and then have them drive it.

This exercise will help your teen learn how to use a map, which can be especially useful when in unfamiliar territory. My wife and I once flew to San Francisco for a wedding. We got a rental car (without any GPS system) and needed to drive about 90 miles north to the wedding location. It was nighttime and neither of us had ever driven in San Francisco. We had the directions from the rental car company, but we still screwed up somewhere along the way. Although the map from the rental company was tiny, it was enough to get us to the hotel. The ridiculous part of the whole adventure was that the rental car was so “economy” that it didn’t even have a dome light. In order to read the map, we had to pull over to the side of the road and open a door in order to turn on the door lights.

Note: Yes, I was the one driving the car who initially got us lost.

Yes, learning directions is important even with the advent of GPS

I’m a huge fan of the in-car GPS. My wife got one in her car about a year ago and since then, we always take her car when we go somewhere new. It’s great when we want to head home because we can hit the “Go to Home” button and the system directs us back to familiar territory. The only problem is that the GPS system is only as good as its latest map update. If your maps are out of date and roads have changed or are temporarily closed, you may be headed for a little trouble.

Most importantly, however, is that you never know when you’re going to be in a car without GPS. So, take the time to teach your teen how to follow directions and how to use a map.

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