Understanding how to use a compass is an invaluable skill for any outdoors enthusiast, but compass skills aren’t just good for adventurous adults. Teaching compass skills to kids is a great way to cultivate their abstract reasoning and ability to visualize when problem solving.
One excellent strategy for helping your kids learn compass skills is to create games that require them to use their compass. Here are a few ideas:
For kids that are just beginning to learn their cardinal directions, this game will help to familiarize them. For this activity, you’ll need a basketball, a court on which to play, and a way to mark spots on the court (e.g. cones, sidewalk chalk).
You’ll need to mark 8 spots on the court -- one for each of the cardinal and ordinal directions -- with North underneath the basket and South at the middle point of the 3-point-line’s arc. Make sure you don’t label which point is which, since the goal of the activity for the kids to determine that.
Before you get started, split the group into two teams. The teams will alternate turns shooting the ball until all team members have gone the agreed upon number of times (you’ll want to scale the number of turns the size of your group, and the amount of time you have available.)
Here’s how you play: at the beginning of each turn, you will call one of the 8 cardinal or ordinal directions. The team member whose turn it is must immediately go to the corresponding point, and take a shot. If a team member goes to the incorrect point, they may not shoot. If the team member goes to the correct point, they will be awarded 2 points, and will be allowed to shoot. If the team member makes a basket, they will be awarded 1 additional point.
After all team members have taken the agreed upon number of turns, tally the score for each team. The team with the most points wins.
This game can be tailored to kids with various levels of compass familiarity. For this game you’ll need a compass, place marker, and direction sheet for each participating team.
Divide your group into teams of about 3 each.
Now, when creating your directions sheet, the key is to make sure they will lead your teams back to the point where they started. This is how you’ll know whether they followed the directions correctly.
Like we mentioned earlier, you can cater your direction sheet to the level of your kids by using only cardinal directions for beginners, cardinal and ordinal directions for intermediate difficulty, and bearings for more advanced children.
A beginner’s direction sheet might look something like this:
1. Take 5 steps South.
2. Take 10 steps East.
3. Take 20 steps North.
4. Take 15 steps West.
5. Take 15 steps South.
6. Take 5 steps East.
...while an advanced direction sheet might look something like this:
1. Take a bearing of 180 degrees, then take 20 steps in that direction.
2. Take a bearing of 45 degrees, then take 28 steps in that direction.
3. Take a bearing of 315 degrees, then take 28 steps in that direction.
4. Take a bearing of 225 degrees, then take 28 steps in that direction.
5. Take a bearing of 90 degrees, then take 28 steps in that direction.
The Trail Swap Game
This game lets your kids create their own navigation courses, then execute the courses their peers have created. You’ll need 2 place markers small enough not to be seen from a distance (Golf tees are great.), as well as a compass, pen, and paper for each team.
Divide the group into teams of 3, then spread the teams out. Have each team put down one of its markers at the start of their course, then create a 5-part set of instructions which they will follow, and place the second marker where the directions lead.
Have the teams swap instructions and follow each others' course. The game is over when all teams have completed all courses.
A fun twist on the Trail Swap Game is to play it at night or in a dark gymnasium with flashlights.
These are only a few of the many games that you can put together to help improve your children’s compass skills. Don’t hesitate to make up your own games to focus on specific compass tasks. The sky’s the limit!