How to Teach your Children to Use the Compass

Here are different ways you can teach your children to use the compass.

Parents that enjoy the outdoors most likely learned how to use a compass when they went camping, went hiking with their family or maybe their parents thought them how. Tribes from long age would teach their children the direction of their villages at a young age, especially when the slave traders were coming to capture them. Fathers would teach their sons and daughters which direction to run back to their villages or hide in the jungles. The sun always sets in the west, so it’s fairly simple to figure out the time of day by watching where the sun is. It also is fairly simple to figure out that east is opposite of west and north is opposite of south. Here are some ways you can teach your children how to use the compass.

Children are able to learn map basics and the four main directions once you show them how a compass really works. Once your children understand the basics of the compass, it’s time for them to begin learning how to take the bearing and use navigation tactics across the land and rough terrain with their compass. Don’t teach them anything really advanced, such as declination, but make sure you just focus on the basics of the compass. This includes the parts of the compass and how to take the bearing along with basic navigation tools.

The Basics of the Compass

A parent can explain to their child that a map is an entire view of the world and why people who navigate using what is called the four cardinal directions. A child has to understand that the earth has a magnetic north pole, which is always on the top position of the map. This is why the needle of the compass always will point towards the north because of the magnetic pull from the north pole. Then it’s time to let your child practice with the compass by asking them to figure out which way is north. Make sure you teach them the parts of the compass first, including the magnetic needle, arrow, travel direction arrow, rotating house and the base plate. Once they learn all this, they should be able to figure out which way north is.


The next thing on the agenda is to teach your child how to set a bearing or use the compass in easier terms. This helps them decide the direction they have to walk to reach their destination, even if the terrain is slightly rugged and dips. You can show them the proper way of holding the compass in front of them, making sure the compass is flat. In addition, they also have to be aware of the direction of the travel arrow and make sure it’s pointing in the direction of their destination. A parent may certainly demonstrate how to rotate the housing dial in order for the arrow to match the correct direction of the north-pointing magnetic needle. Children can use the bearing to figure out the way to reach their location and also figure out the direction they should be traveling to get back to point A.

Make it Easy and Practical

Parents should let their child practice these skills outside of their comfort zone. Parents can give them a challenge and have them stand at Point A, pick their destination and take the bearing with them. They can also trade their spots with a buddy and try to figure out the other person’s destination by using the bearing. Parents can also teach their child how to use a bearing and line up their compass with the map. This way they can play outside and use a game that was similar but includes the map of the outdoor area.


When you notice your child is very comfortable with using a bearing, then try challenging them to take what is called a three-legged compass walk. Teach them to mark the point they start at and set their compasses to 360 degrees, which is north. Have your child pick out a landmark that is north and walk 100 paces. When they have completed the 100 paces, then have them set their compasses to 240 degrees and continue to walk another 100 paces. This is called a full triangle and your child should end up pretty close to where they started if they did everything the right way and followed directions closely. This is a good activity to teach children how to find a landmark with their compasses. This is called “sighting a landmark”.

Compass Information for Kids

The world looks mighty large to small children and it’s important to learn how to get from Point A to Point B. Learning these techniques for a child will give them a lot more self-confidence about being out in the woods. It’s important to understand a compass because it gives a child a good sense of direction, and is useful for these little kids to learn how to drive.

Cardinal Directions

There are four cardinal directions on a compass, the exact same as a map which is north, south, east and west. A person looking at a compass generally sees north at the top and south is on the bottom of the compass. East is on the right of the compass and west is on the left of the compass. These are considered the major directions of the compass and in between the minor directions like north-east and southwest, northwest and southeast.


The Earth is similar to a bar magnet and has magnet poles. If magnetic poles are “like” similar to the + signs on a battery, the magnetic poles repel each other. This is comparable to the 2 + signs of a battery will not work if put into the device with both pluses sign up. It has to be a positive + and a negative -, in order for the device to work. The needle on all compasses is also a magnet. The needle that is magnetic goes in opposite directions to the magnetic poles of the Earth. When your child is looking at a compass needle, point out the fact that the red end is always pointing to Earth’s magnetic north pole.


Each compass contains two arrows on what is called an orienteering compass. One arrow is inside of the compass glass or bubble and the other arrow is outside of the compass and this is called the travel arrow. The outside ring of the compass is called the “housing” which turns. When the housing is turned by your child or any person, the base is also turned inside of the compass which in turn moves the orienteering arrow. The round area outside circling the housing is where the directions are marked. The numbers could say 0 to 360. This is what is called the exact amount of degrees inside of a full circle. There is something called the ring of a compass which has the directions and the degrees and is named the compass rose and is part of the housing.

The direction of a Compass

North is easy to find and when you teach your child to hold the compass at a level position, the needle moves freely and your child can watch where the needle points. This is north. A good way to find out the direction you are facing is to stand with the direction of travel away from you and turn the housing ring until the correct arrow is lined up with the red end of the compass needle. This is when the travel direction should align with N<S<E or W or in between. This shows your child the direction they are standing in.


There are always some fun games to play with a compass like a treasure hunt for beginning compass students. The person receives a card with the 1st direction and tries to figure out how far away it is based on the card. Put a card at the first site, telling them directions about the next clue. Then give them 3 sealed envelopes with some hints just in case they become lost.