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Create a 3D Town & Nurture Young Explorers

By Peggy Healy Stearns, Ph.D.

Children are explorers by nature. They are curious about their own backyards, their neighborhoods, and the world at large. Summer vacation, when many families travel about town, around the state, or across the country, is a perfect opportunity to nurture the explorer in every child. During this time when a child’s world is expanding, you can nurture curiosity and help children develop mapping and geography skills that will serve them both now and later in life as they set out on their own adventures.

Building a 3D town like the one shown here is an easy and exciting project that can be done by one or several children, or, even better, as a collaborative activity for the entire family. You can complete the project in one sitting or over several days. When you’re finished you have a motivating play and learning environment that can last all summer long and serve as a springboard for investigating real world maps.

3D Town

Children begin by exploring a small map, and then build a 30” by 40” town with 3D buildings made from easy patterns. In the process, they learn basic mapping and geography skills that will help prepare them for standardized tests and will transfer to real world situations. All materials except for a few basics can be downloaded for free right here from the Parents’ Choice website.
The printed materials for this activity were created with Neighborhood MapMachine, a software program from Tom Snyder Productions, a division of Scholastic. With Neighborhood MapMachine, children create their own original maps of real or imaginary communities. They add symbols for buildings and objects, attach photos, travel around maps onscreen, solve mysteries, and print maps in four sizes from single page to wall size. For more information on Neighborhood MapMachine, click here.


  • To create a motivating environment in which to develop basic mapping and geography skills including the use of symbols, compass directions, scale, and grid coordinates
  • To practice eye-hand coordination
  • To develop transformational geometry skills

Free downloads from Parents’ Choice website:

Other materials
  • Scissors
  • Tape or glue
  • Colored pencils, crayons, and/or markers


  1. Download and print “ParentsChoiceMap.pdf” and explore the map with your child. Use the questions at the bottom of the map as a guide, then make up your own questions or let your child quiz you. For younger children, focus on questions about road names, symbols, and compass directions.
  2. Show children the photo of the large map and 3D buildings and tell them you’re going to create a play town like the one shown. Download and print all 16 pages of “ParentsChoiceMap4x4.pdf” and help your child lay out the pages in a 4x4 grid, fitting the pieces together like a puzzle. If you want, you can use the grid coordinates along the bottom and right side as a guide. Trim pages as needed and tape together. (Note: Most pages should be trimmed on the bottom and right side.)
  3. Print the patterns for some or all 3D buildings [House, School, Library, Church, Store, Tall Building, Restaurant]. Let your child choose a building and color it. Then have your child cut, fold, and tape the building together to create a 3D model. Provide assistance as needed. Create additional buildings in the same way. If you want to create a town like that shown on the small map, you will need multiple copies of some buildings.
  4. Locate the symbol for one of the buildings on the small map. Then have your child place the model in the same location on the large map. Refer to street intersections, compass directions, or grid coordinates depending on your child’s developmental level. Recreate all or part of the town in the same way.

    Map Icons

  5. When you finish, encourage your child to compare your 3D town with the small map to see if all buildings are placed correctly.

More Fun!

  • Let children add miniature cars, trees, people, animals, or objects.
  • Ask children to explain how they would get from one location to another. Then have them trace the route with their finger or “drive” along the route with miniature cars.
  • Let children design their own town by rearranging the buildings. Ask them why they chose specific locations.
  • Explore maps of your town, state or country. Help children locate the map legend, compass, and scale and use these tools to locate landmarks, determine direction, and measure distances. Maps with symbols, often available at tourist centers, are ideal for this activity.


About the Author
Peggy Healy Stearns, Ph.D., ( is an educator, a parent, and the designer of eight award-winning children’s software programs including Graph Club, Stationery Studio, and Neighborhood MapMachine.


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