Creating a Mental Map of the US States
We create mental maps every day as we go about our usual business. For example, when you take your child to a school for the first time you automatically create a mental map of the school, the playground, the cafeteria, and of course your child’s classroom.
Later, when you think of your child at school, you don’t see the playground as an imagined field, but in your mind’s eye you see the swings, the monkey bars, the sports fields and the hopscotch area in the corner of the sidewalk.
The same holds true of your child’s classroom and the cafeteria. You can see where your child sits, where the teacher’s desk is, and the bookracks.
In the cafeteria you see the rows of tables and the serving line. By remembering what is unique about each place, you have created a mental map of that school.
If you have a child at another school, you have an entirely different mental map for that place, and will not confuse the two. This is how our memory works, by distinctly mapping each playground with its unique characteristics. However, if all playgrounds were just large open, empty fields with nothing in them or anything surrounding them except more open fields, how would you distinguish one from the other?
If you think of a map of the United States, the states are like the empty playgrounds with no distinguishing information for your mental map except that of their shapes. But if we put visual information (not unlike the playground equipment) into each state, that allows us to create a mental map to distinguish one from the other.
Each state becomes unique in our minds. Going further, if that visual information has a direct relationship with the shape of that state and with the states around it your mental map can immediately place it in its proper location.
The uniqueness of each state and its proper location can be reinforced with both rhyme and song, a time-tested and fun way to aid memory. Should your mental map become a bit hazy the rhyme related to that state or states can easily bring it back.