Children can learn the basics of maps and the four cardinal directions as you show them how a compass works. Once they are comfortable with the basics, they can begin to learn how to take a bearing and navigate across terrain with a compass. Avoid advanced concepts, such as declination, and focus on compass basics, including the parts of a compass, how to take a bearing and basic navigation skills.
Explain to kids that a map is a bird's-eye view of the world and how navigators use the four cardinal directions. They need to know that the Earth has a magnetic north pole, which is always in the up position on a map, and that the needle of a compass always points toward the north. Let kids practice with a compass by asking them to determine which way is north by looking at the compass. Make sure they can identify the various parts of the compass, including the magnetic needle, orienting arrow, direction of travel arrow, rotating housing and base plate.
Set a Bearing
Next teach kids how to set a bearing, or use a compass to determine which direction they need to walk to reach a given location, even if the terrain dips. Show them how to hold the compass in front of them, completely flat, with the direction of travel arrow pointing in the direction they want to go. Demonstrate how to rotate the housing dial so the orienting arrow matches the direction of the north-pointing magnetic needle. They can use this bearing to determine which way to go to reach their destination, as well as which direction they should travel to get back to their starting point.
Make It Practical
Let children practice the skills they have learned out in the real world. Challenge them to stand at a given location, choose a destination and take a bearing. Then have them trade locations with a partner and try to figure out the other person's destination based on that bearing. You can also teach them how to take a bearing by lining up their compass with a map and play a similar game involving a map of an outdoor area.
Practice Compass Skills
Once the children seem comfortable with taking a bearing, challenge them to take a three-leg compass walk. Instruct them to mark off their starting points and set their compasses to 360 degrees, which is north. They should then sight a landmark due north and walk 100 paces. Next, they set their compasses to 120 degrees and walk another 100 paces; then, they set their compasses to 240 degrees and walk another 100 paces. This should take them in a full triangle and they should end up very close to their starting point if they have completed the activity correctly. This activity helps children practice sighting a landmark with their compasses.