Fly Your Way Across the USA (Without Leaving Home)

Here's your nightly math! Just 5 quick minutes of number fun for kids and parents at home. Read a cool fun fact, followed by math riddles at different levels so everyone can jump in. Your kids will love you for it.

Fly Your Way Across the USA (Without Leaving Home)

November 24, 2014

My husband and I immigrated to the United States from our home countries as adults. We make a point to raise our daughter with awareness of her heritage and with a passion for learning about other countries and cultures. At eight years-old, she’s already a seasoned traveler, even though she doesn’t enjoy flying. Still, she braves the planes every year for her favorite route – from San Francisco to New York, so we can visit my parents in New Jersey. In honor of Geography Awareness Week, we flew that route in our backyard.

I’m going to show how we flew across the country, so you can do the same in your yard or at a local park with this fun map scale activity.

Fly Your Way Across the USA at!


    • * Map of the United States
    • * Ruler
    • * Pencil
    • * Strips of paper
    • * Stakes or something you can stick in the ground like croquet gates
    • * Sheets of paper
  • Take your map and mark a relatively straight path between several major US cities. Measure the distances between major cities with a ruler (rounding up a little) and put them on the map. How many inches is the full trip across the USA based on your route?
  • Print the names of the cities on the strips of paper.
  • Attach the strips to the stakes.

Fly Your Way Across the USA at!

Set the Playing Field

Setting up the field means scaling your yard to the size of the United States. It presents quite an opportunity for your kids to use their math skills. Depending on their age and their fluency with math, your kids will likely need help to do this.

You can see my daughter at work in the image above. First she put one marker in on the far side of the lawn and measured the distance in inches to the other end of our backyard lawn. The length was 387 inches.

Then she used this measurement to calculate where she needed to place the markers for her cities using the map as a reference. To find the scale, take the length of your backyard and divide it by the distance on your paper map. In our case, the distance on the map was 8.5 inches. To scale it, we divided 387 by 8.5, which equals 46 inches of backyard to every inch on the paper map.

My daughter has not yet learned how to divide with decimals but, interestingly, she came up with her own workaround. She multiplied the map inches by 2, resulting in a total of she could divide by, 17 inches. So she divided our 387-inch yard by 17, ½ -inch units. Then she used her scale (23 inches of the yard to every ½ inch of the paper map) to calculate her distances.

Thus the 3 inches from San Francisco to Denver on the map became 138 inches in the yard and so on across the USA.

Place your stakes and you’re ready to play!

Fly Your Way Across the USA at!

Play “Fly Across the USA”

The fun has just started! Now kids can make different airplane models and see if any of them can fly across the United States without ground connections. At times our planes completely veered off course and ended up in “Canada” or “Mexico” instead of flying straight.

My daughter has big plans for complicated game involving charts and point systems for the next time we play this game–perhaps during a playdate…

Interesting Air Travel Facts

  • * A plane ticket cost just $5 in the 1920s.
  • * An average of 61,000 people are airborne over US at any given hour.
  • * The longest recorded paper airplane flight was 27.6 seconds.
  • * If a regular airplane could fly from Earth to the Sun, the trip would take 20 years.

For more geography fun, check out our November printable activity pages!

Images courtesy of Natalie

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About the Author



Natalie is a system engineer by education and a program manager for a big technology company in Silicon Valley. She was born and raised in the Soviet Union and always enjoyed math challenges and math Olympiads. Now she is trying to instill the same love of math in her daughter through books, math talks, and fun projects involving engineering and math. Natalie blogs at Planet Smarty Pants and can also be found on Pinterest.

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