Inspired by the cross country U.S. road trip my family is currently in the midst of, here’s an at-home or in the car (or in a hotel room, in our case) activity built around the directions on a compass: North, South, East and West.
As we drove from Indianapolis to St. Louis, my youngest girl was watching our car’s in-dash digital compass oscillate between west, southwest, and occasionally, when the highways and byways got a little wonky, northwest. As she excitedly called out our current driving direction, she’d ask me which states are behind us and which are out in front. She’s always been a teensy bit directionally challenged, so this sprawling 13 state vacation is causing her daily geographic confusion.
This simple compass activity uses what is surrounding your child right now to help them understand directions. (Those on a compass, not the ones you are trying to give them — I can only do so much!)
My girls did the activity in our St. Louis hotel before going up into the arch, using just the stuff in our room, the swimming pool outside, and, of course, the Gateway Arch itself. My youngest still might not be clear on which state is the next one heading west on our journey, but she now knows this hotel’s swimming pool is due south!
What You’ll Need
- pad and pencil
- compass (or compass smartphone app)
- printer (optional)
How to Set Up
First things first, you’ll need to figure out in which direction the front of your house (or hotel room) faces or which direction your family car is traveling. Now have your child pick a central point, their own Mississippi River, if you will. Have them stand or sit there and look all around.
How To Do The Compass Activity
Ask your child to label the directions of a compass on a notepad and begin to write down all the ‘stuff’ in your house, hotel room or car that’s in the East, West, North and South.
Now that your children know their bedroom is in the east, the playroom is out west, and their bathtub toys are “up north,” encourage them to write or draw their favorite rooms and stuff on a blank map of the U.S. to get a feel for how their personal space would scale up to an entire country.
How To Go Further West
Finally, talk to your kids about the Louisiana Purchase and 19th century westward expansion. Ask them to imagine that their home was only the stuff and rooms in the east. Have them think about what it was like to slowly head west into uncharted territory. Would they be willing to cross the Mississippi River and venture out in a covered wagon to get to their toys? Would it be worth the risks?