7 Family Activities to Improve Compass Skills

  • compass games

    Games For Kids

    Compass Relay

    This game was originally developed by the Girl Scouts, but can be adapted for boys without any modification of the rules. It is a very basic activity to familiarize kids with the cardinal points. Two teams of children line up parallel to each other and a compass is drawn on the floor (you can also use tape or string). Don’t label any of the cardinal directions except North. Then, an adult calls out an unlabeled direction (West, Northwest, etc) and one kid from each team must place a pen or pencil on the compass pointing the correct way. This game can be played for points, or just for fun.

    Click here for the full rules, as well as a number of other great compass-related games from the Girl Scouts.

    Compass Treasure Hunt

    A great activity for any occasion when a throng of children will be accumulating, this is a very basic game to teach kids how to use a compass. Have everyone group up at a starting point, where they will be given a slip of paper with a “course,” i.e. compass direction, that points towards the first in a series of clues. The slip will also list the approximate number of kid-sized footsteps needed to get there. Give one of them a compass and have them navigate through the howling wilds of the backyard, park or beach where you happen to be, until they reach the next waypoint. They should find a hidden (but not too hidden) package, with a new course and number of footsteps, and a name designating of one of the children to take charge of the compass. You can also include some sugary munchables, to keep them engaged. Set up enough waypoints for everyone to have a turn with the compass, and lead them to some bigger prize, like a cake or a piñata.

    There are a few variations of this game, as well as instructions on how to set up the course, here.

    Compass Tag

    Very similar to the compass treasure hunt, this hide-and-seek game incorporates the use of a map and also the use of the children’s lungs and leg muscles. It is played with a large group – have three to five kids hide in designated spots, like behind trees, boulders or buildings. Give all of the other kids maps of the area and a compass, as well as the coordinates of each hiding spot, or compass bearings and clues. The first kid to collect signatures from each hider wins.

    For more explanation of the rules, as well as a couple other cool games, go here.

    Beeline Hike

    Pushing a little farther out into actual wilderness contexts, this very simple “game” from the Boy Scouts is great for slightly older kids, or younger ones if there is strict supervision. Designate a bearing on a compass and have them walk in a straight path along that bearing, without deviating. If there are obstacles, they should be climbed over if possible. If not, have them circumnavigate the obstacle and then keep going. Leave some kind of prize at the end point, and check out the course ahead of time to make sure there aren’t any safety hazards.

    For more games like this one, check out this article .

    Games For Everyone

    Three-leg Compass Walk

    This activity can be done in any large, open space. At your starting position, leave an object on the ground at your feet. Set your compass to North, and look down the direction of travel arrow and pick a landmark that’s in the line of sight. Walk 100 paces towards that landmark and stop. Only count paces on one foot, i.e. 1 pace = 1 left step and 1 right step. Set your compass to 120 degrees, turn in that direction, sight a new landmark, and walk 100 more paces and stop. Set your compass to 240 degrees and repeat. You should end up pretty much where you started. See how precise you can be – can you end up exactly on top of your starting object?

    Go here for more instructions about how to play this game, and some great instructional info about how to navigate with a compass.

    Online Compass Test

    Thanks to technology, you not only don’t have to go out into nature to practice compass navigation, you don’t even have to own a compass. This online map and compass simulation will teach you the basics of navigating, and will print out a certificate for you if your skills are up to snuff. This is, of course, not an adequate replacement for actual field experience, but is a great introduction to the skills you will need to be effective.

    Check it out here.

    Indoor Triangulation

    Triangulation (also called “resectioning”) is a method by which you can determine your location on a map by using a compass and visible landmarks. As long as you have an accurate map of the area, you can practice triangulation anywhere. Even if you’re indoors.

    Using graph paper, draw a map of the room. Ideally, the room should be large enough to contain a number of different objects or architectural features spread far apart from each other. Then, mark at least two of these objects or points of interest on the map. They shouldn’t be too high or too low, so you can sight them easily with a compass. Stand in one spot and take bearing measurements to each of these objects, and then trace a line along that bearing on the map. The bearing lines will intersect, revealing your position on the map. This is the same principal you would use in the wild, by sighting distant mountains or other geographical features, in conjunction with a topographical map. For added challenge, draw a map and challenge others to find a “mystery” location on the map, by giving them compass bearings to various objects.

    Click here for full details. The exercises were originally intended for use in a classroom but are just as useful outside of one.

    If you have any other ideas for ways to practice your compass skills, or you enjoyed this article, please leave a comment below.

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