Nearly one year ago, my family moved from Colorado back to my hometown in the Midwest. It was not a decision we came to easily. A health issue finally tipped the scales in the direction of moving, and we quickly listed our home and began the stressful and emotional process of packing up the home in which our children were born.
The days roll on, past the immediacy of leaving, past the piles of unopened boxes, past the ungrounded confusion of waking with the moonshine falling in a different angle on my bed. Eventually the mixing bowls found the perfect spot in the cabinet. The painting which has moved from room to room finally settled on the freshly painted kitchen wall. Sometimes now I even find myself picking the right light switch on the first try.
The last few boxes in my office may eventually make their way down to the storage room, where they will gather an accumulation of dust. For now I continue to step around them, and perhaps welcome them as a reminder – a reminder to treat myself and my family gently in the wake of this transition.
In Colorado, we had the singular experience of designing and building our own yard and garden. To our barren dirt lot we brought stone and trees, mulch and groundcovers; we built pathways and raised beds, until the yard was full of our humble efforts. We knew all of its quirks and imperfections, and I’m certain much of its charm lay in our intimate acquaintance with its inception and growth. (Is this not sometimes true of parenthood?) So many of our experiences and memories are tied with our time spent outdoors, that leaving our yard and the mountains were among the hardest challenges we faced in our move.
Last year we found ourselves in our new home, in the thick of a hot and humid summer season. The yard and woods around our house, which I had only seen in the first bud of spring, had exploded into leaf. Within a few days, our little explorations had my arms covered in poison ivy rash. It seemed we were off to a bad start.
The children and I felt hesitant, even intimidated by our unfamiliar yard and wooded surroundings. The Midwestern landscape was like a jungle in comparison to our small xeriscaped yard in Colorado. We no longer knew each plant, or the places the yellowjackets like to visit, or where to watch our steps when running.
Although we love gardening, we found ourselves avoiding much of the mature landscaping for the first summer. We couldn’t identify all of the plants, and things had become a bit overgrown and wild. We even worried about disturbing the habits of the animals which made our backyard their home. The pond was full of fish and bullfrogs, and a visiting place for all manner of ducks, and geese. We watched them from the windows, laughing at their antics and making up stories about their activities. We counted on the Great Blue Heron arriving on time every morning, standing statue-still at the edge of the pond, for hours. On the rare day we could witness him spearing and tossing a fish, and his throat expanding as he swallowed it whole.
Over time we came to know and love our new little world. We found that we had a perfect hill for sledding. The children discovered a love for setting out on the lake in a little rowboat we keep by the water’s edge. They also began to play within our yard, and found enchanting experiences around each corner. A tiny playspace was found under a weeping redbud tree. It was not until much later, after I trimmed a few branches to allow the children to get in and out more easily, that I discovered it was a rare specimen. We had a good laugh, and continued to use the tree for our adventures, albeit a bit more carefully. Over the course of the winter and into the spring, the children began to name the areas of the yard, and develop elaborate games and activities for each little region.
As they have come to know the natural world in the immediate vicinity, their appreciation for nature everywhere has grown deeper. With this in mind I thought of a way to preserve the early childhood magic they share together, while providing a prop for their adventurous play. Below I share an overview of how to create a map book for your child. You can easily take this same idea and apply it to any place you and your children love. A favorite park, a trail through the mountains – any place can be mapped and treasured. You can add to the map book as your children grow, and they can eventually begin to do the work themselves. For my own young children, I made the maps for only the small places in which they play that are very close to our home. As they get older the maps can expand outward in a widening circle.
The following materials represent most of what I used to create our specific map books. You do not, however, need to go to extraordinary lengths to create them. You can use an existing notebook, or no book at all. I was inspired, truly, by what I found in my office recycle bin, and enjoyed the process so much that I kept going.
Watercolors and brushes
Permanent fine-tip marker
Assorted paper, paperboard, or cardboard. Rummage in your recycling bin!
Cutting tools, including scissors and a craft knife
Fabric for cover
Ribbon or floss for holding pages in
Hole punch tool
Spray adhesive or other sturdy glue
Create the Map
Begin with your children’s favorite place. Envision this spot, and the little objects, wildlife, and plants which they have enjoyed there over time. You can create your image with a specific season in mind, or be flexible with it, as I did. My children love a little nook in our yard, hidden from view, which they call The Secret Hideout. It was bursting with jonquils this spring, and is intersected by a little rock path. It is enclosed on one side by a low timber wall, and the path leads to a spot at the wall where the children have “climbing class.” I had all these elements in mind when I sketched the area.
I practiced a few times, ultimately choosing to outline things with colored pencil and fill in with watercolor. I am by no means a skilled or trained artist, but I found it fairly easy to create a little painting of The Secret Hideout. Once you have created your drawing or painting on sturdy paper, let it dry, and then you can use a color copier to make several copies (and scale to fit the map book.) Upon your copies you can write the names of any of the special elements in the location, and add more as they evolve.
You can create as many little maps as you wish, or save more ideas for creating later.
Create a Map Book
As I mentioned before, there is no need to go out of your way to make something special. You might find yourself, however, enjoying the process. I made two map books from small cardboard shipping boxes which had held recent book purchases. They were the only two in my recycle bin – nothing special was used, and they could not be reused for shipping.
This is the original box.
I trimmed off the wings to make the book.
After finding some paperboard or cardboard boxes, trim down to a desired size. The blue-green one I have pictured in this article is approximately 6.5 x 9 inches and 2 inches deep. The pink version is 7 x 10.5 inches and only .5 inches deep.
Lay the cardboard on top of a piece of fabric, trim the fabric down to size, with an inch or so of overlap. Precision is definitely not required. Take the supplies outside for gluing. Using spray adhesive, attach the fabric to the outside of the book, and wrap it around the edges, folding the corners in so they are tidy.
Next cut down sturdy paper to fit the inside covers of the book. I used some pretty scrap paper leftover from another project, and some pages torn from an outdated atlas. The paper should not quite touch the edges of the book, but should cover the edge of the fabric. Once again take your supplies outside and glue the paper to the inside of the book. After gluing, it helps to crease the paper along the joints of the book and adjust the paper as needed.
Once the book has dried for a bit, you can fill it with pages for maps and drawings. My favorite binding method is using folded paper for the pages, and stitching them into the book through the center crease with a sturdy needle and embroidery floss. Make sure to put plenty of pages in for future additions.
After the pages are in, you can add maps as you wish, labeling elements on them or not. Simply paste an original or copied map onto a blank page.
Depending on the shape of the book, you can add a closure if you wish. The pink book has a long piece of satin ribbon, stitched in place in the center of the flap, which can be wrapped around the book and tied.
For more ideas on creating books from repurposed materials, I highly recommend Re-bound: Creating Handmade Books From Recycled and Repurposed Materials, by Jeannine Stein.
Coming to know and love our surroundings has helped us to feel connected and grounded in our new home, eased the anxiety of the transition, and to enjoy the natural world around us. Our map books honor the creative spirit of children, and serve as a perfect keepsake of the magic of early childhood.
Bernadette Emerson is Co-Editor and Publisher of Rhythm of the Home. She enjoys sharing art, craft, and music with her young children. She has recently moved with her family from Colorado to the Midwest, where she is enjoying all that life has to offer.