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Compass in Their Heads

Age: 3 to 8 Time: <30 min
Materials: None required
Skills: Navigation, Active Lifestyle, Self Reliance, Focus & Self Control

I am, admittedly, directionally challenged. However, through spending enough time with Brian, who is naturally wired for moving within space, I've learned to be a navigator. It’s our desire that our children or yours will not have to wait until adulthood to do the same. Although we can't implant compasses or GPS in our kids' heads (yet), we can model and teach them the basics of navigation. Kids are surprisingly sophisticated when given the chance to navigate outdoors—especially if you show them a technique or two!

The Guide

  1. Simply put, it's modeling: As you walk or hike in the great outdoors, even if you are walking through a park to get to the other side, use some of the following navigation techniques. Kids will start the learn the same pattern and behavior from you. Eventually, they'll be hard-wired to use them again when you can't be there to guide.
  2. Read maps together: Whenever you cross paths with a map, stop and examine it with your kids. Chat about the map and try to get kids talking. Ask questions and help them discover how to read the visual queues on maps and learn about the outdoor area you're visiting.
  3. Make a big deal of trail markers: Point them out. Talk about which way you'll go and how you'll know you've got the right path when you hit the next trailhead or crossing.
  4. Find your own landmarks: As you walk outdoors, look for and point out unusual looking trees, logs, rocks, bodies of water, hills, nests, dens, holes—whatever you think could make a memorable landmark. Give them memorable names or have the kids name them. Kids we work with have named "the climbing bear" (a formation on a tree trunk that is uncannily shaped like a black bear), "the lumpy bumpy tree" and the "ooey, gooey mud pit" as favorite landmarks. If you can, use your landmarks whenever you hike a given trail.
  5. Make them the leaders: On your second or third trip on a given route, challenge kids to hike, walk or run to the next landmark as you hike in. Or, pretend you’ve forgotten where to go and ask kids to lead you on the whole trip, aided by the landmarks.
  6. Blaze your own trail: Bring along some sidewalk chalk or flour and make marks on the trees to make your own trail. If you have enough people, split into two teams. Each team makes a trail, then switches and tries to follow the other team’s trail.

Why is this activity great for kids?

Teaching young kids to find their own way benefits kids in many ways, not least of which is safety. We all fear the moment that our child wanders too far and gets lost. It's quite valuable to train kids to be mindful of where they are and, eventually, to find their way if and when lost.

But this is not the primary reason to teach navigation. When kids practice identifying where they are, where they are going and where they've been, they build key skills including the ability to attend to and notice their surroundings. This ability to focus one's attention is a skill closely tied with success in school and in life. Kids also practice ways to tag and remember information, increasing both the strength and flexibility of their memory. Kids are both thrilled and proud about finding their own way, helping develop self reliance.

Finally, when kids learn to navigate the real world, they develop a sense of how to move through space. This is an increasingly important capacity that they'll call on throughout their life—examples include working within systems, writing computer programs, or to travel the world competently to learn about new people and places.

   

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Do It Yourself

We think all families should be learning outside. Try this activity with your child and begin to see the power in outdoor, play-based learning. Have fun!

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