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Teaching Kids to Navigate

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Teaching Kids to Navigate

When you get kids to understand the basics of navigation, you’re not only teaching them a life skill – plus self-reliance, focus, and self-control – you’re also showing them a good time. It’s fun to be out in nature and teaching kids to navigate.

Compass In Their Heads

If your child is, say, between ages three and eight, use some navigation techniques whenever you’re walking outdoors or crossing through a park. Your child will pick up on your pattern and behavior. Eventually, it’ll be natural for them to use the techniques themselves when you aren’t there to guide.

Read maps together. Whenever you’re out and you come upon a map, take the time to stop and examine it with your kids. Make some comments to get them talking. Pose questions and help them discover how to interpret visual cues on maps and learn about the outdoor space you’re visiting.

Teach map symbols. When going for a walk, use a map to show your child how to read  the map symbols relevant to your stroll. For instance, you can show them how roads, footpaths, streams and river, and wooded areas are indicated on the map.

Point out trail markers. never pass a trail marker without stopping to discuss it. When you reach the next crossing, talk with your kids about which way to go and how you know you’re on the right path.

Make your own landmarks. When you’re walking around outside, look for and show your kids interesting-looking trees, nests, dens, bodies of water, logs – anything you think might make a memorable landmark. You or the kids could nickname the landmarks, and, if possible, use the same landmarks whenever you’re in that area.

Designate your child the leader. Perhaps on your third trip on a route, get your child to walk, run, or hike to the next landmark while you tag along behind. You can also “forget” where you’re going and get your child to take the lead, with help from the landmarks.

Create your own trail. The next time you’re heading out in nature with your child, take along some flour or sidewalk chalk and mark a few trees to make your own trail. If your child brings along friends, split them into teams which could take turns making a trail and having the other team follow it.

Set A Bearing

Use a compass for kids to learn how to set a “bearing” to determine the direction they need to walk to get where they’re going. Demonstrate how to hold the compass flat in front of them, with the arrow pointing in the destination’s direction. Show them how to rotate the housing dial so that the orienting arrow matches the direction of the north-pointing magnetic needle.

Keep it practical. Give your child a chance to practice their skills in the real work. Get them to stand at a given location, select a destination, and take a bearing. Then have him switch locations with a partner and try to pinpoint the other person’s destination using that bearing.

Practice compass skills. Once your child has a knack for taking a bearing, see if he or she can take a walk with three waypoints leading back to their point of origin using the compass. Direct them to mark off their starting points and set their compasses to North to start.

With GPS devices so prevalent these days, many older kids have a device built into their phone. However, without understanding maps, navigation, or compasses, all they learn is to follow the device’s instructions. Without the device — they’re lost. Teaching kids to navigate early is not only loads of fun; it’s the right thing to do.

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