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How to Use a Compass and Read a Map

Grab the kids and practice your map skills! Mobile technology puts all sorts of tools at your fingertips, and it might seem like maps and compasses are obsolete – but don’t be fooled. There are three important reasons to add these skills when you teach kids about travel and world cultures:

  1. Reading maps supports the development of spatial reasoning – the ability to understand where places (and things) are in relation to each other.
  2. There are plenty of reasons why a GPS won’t work, from a lack of mobile network coverage to a lost or broken device. Sometimes, it is as simple as forgetting to charge your phone.
  3. Using compasses is critical to staying safe in the great outdoors.

4 Steps to Becoming a Map-Reading Marvel

  1. Research different kinds of maps online or at your local library. Learn the difference between road maps, tourist maps and topographic maps.
  2. Look at the legend – a box on each map that tells you what symbols and lines represent. For example, the legend will reveal what sort of lines show you walking trails and which show you roads.
  3. The legend also shows you the map’s scale. Scale is the ratio between the distance between two points on the map and the actual distance in real life.
  4. Once you understand how a map works, all that remains is to practice using it! Get maps of your home city, then choose a starting point and end point. Find your way from one to the other with the information on your map.

3 Steps to Becoming a Compass Crackerjack

A compass is able to show you directions because the magnetic needle always points north. There are two additional arrows you need to know about. The orienting arrow and the direction of travel arrows are printed on the compass, pointing outwards.

  1. Hold your compass flat, so the needle can move around freely.
  2. Turn the compass so that the magnetic needle and the orienting arrow are lined up. They are both pointing north.
  3. Now turn your body without turning the compass needle. Notice that as you face different directions, the direction of the travel arrow tells you whether you are going north, south, east or west.

Get Started!

The best way to keep knowledge fresh is to draw your own maps – then test them out with friends and family. Can they get from one place to another by using just your map and a compass?

Parents – create backyard treasure hunts that require the use of a map and compass. Add to the fun with treasure hunt themes – for example, pirates, explorers, and superheroes.

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