Information About Compasses for Children

Compasses are a time-tested way to navigate the world.
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The world is a big place; it's even bigger when you're younger and smaller. Learning how to get from one place to another using a compass will help your child feel more confident about being outdoors. Understanding a compass will instill a good sense of direction, a useful ability for more grown-up skills like driving.

The Four Directions

There are four cardinal directions on a compass, just like on a map: north, south, east and west. When looking at a compass, north is traditionally at the top and south is at the bottom, with east on the right and west on the left. In between the major directions on a compass are minor directions, such as northeast or southwest.

Magnetic Poles

The Earth, like a bar magnet, has magnetic poles. "Like" magnetic poles repel each other, while opposite poles attract each other. The needle on a compass is also a magnet. The magnetic compass needle lines up in the opposite direction to the Earth's magnetic poles. On compass needles, the red end always points to Earth's north magnetic pole.

Parts of the Compass

There are two arrows on orienteering compasses. One, the orienting arrow, is inside the compass bubble. The second arrow is outside the compass bubble and is the direction of travel arrow. The exterior ring of the compass, called the housing, turns. When you turn the housing, it also turns the base of the compass inside the bubble, moving the orienteering arrow. Around the outside of the housing, the directions are marked. There may be numbers from 0 to 360. This is how many degrees there are in a full circle. The ring with directions and degrees is called a compass rose and as part of the housing.

Finding a Direction

Finding north is easy. You hold the compass level, so that the needle moves freely, and watch which direction the needle points to. This is north. To find which direction you are facing, stand with the direction-of-travel arrow pointing away from you and turn the housing ring until the orienting arrow lines up with the red end of the compass needle. The direction-of-travel arrow now aligns with N,S,E or W (or points between) to show the direction you are facing.

Compass Games

Create a "treasure hunt" for a new compass users. The beginning compass user gets a card with the first compass direction and an estimate of how far they should go in that direction on a card. Place a card at the first site, giving further directions on how to find the next clue. Give them three sealed envelopes with hints inside in case they get lost.

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