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Exploring Compass Directions through Play!

2017-05-01 by Julie Kieras

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Creative play points the way to learning compass directions, in this fun floor activity shared by our Blog Ambassador Julie of Happy Strong Home!

Play is a wonderful time to introduce new concepts and activities to kids. When my boys started learning directional words like “left” and “right,” “up” and “down,” I started used them in their playtime to help them put those words into practice.

Exploring Compass Directions through Play

Teaching your kids map reading skills like knowing compass directions can also be done easily through play.

For our compass direction play activity, we used our town play rug, plus a wooden town play set. The boys have loved setting up their town set on the roads and park areas of the play mat.

Exploring Compass Directions through Play

One day, I set out a paper compass and reviewed the major compass directions of north, south, east, and west. Setting the paper beside the play rug, we talked about these different directions before beginning our activity.

Exploring Compass Directions through Play

The game was simple, they would choose a town building, and I would tell them where to put it directionally.

“Put the grocery store south of the river.”  Or, “Place the pet hospital to the east of the school.”

Using both directions terms and visual landmarks on the play rug (“of the river”) helped the boys learn that north was up, south was down, east was right and west was left.

Exploring Compass Directions through Play

Once they got the hang of these terms, we moved on to more challenging directions like northeast, southeast, northwest, and southwest.

Although I gave the directions, the boys still had plenty of leeway with where to put their buildings. “North of the river” still leaves about half of the play area open to place their building.

Exploring Compass Directions Through Play

When the boys finished building their town to their satisfaction, they used the wooden cars that came with the play rug to play “driving directions.” I would tell one of my boys to drive south and the other to drive north, and then try to direct them east or west to keep them from crashing! This version of play using compass directions led to some pretty hilarious maneuvers and many (somewhat intentional!) crashes!

For younger map questers, try directional word combinations like above/below, near/far, right/left. Then once they have the hang of the game, you might introduce north/south and other compass directions a bit at a time.

It doesn’t take long for children to start incorporating these compass direction words seamlessly into their own playtime.  I started overhearing my boys talking to each other about putting buildings “down south” and “over to the west.” Play allows kids to use new vocabulary in an authentic way and feel confident about their word choices.

Exploring Compass Directions through Play

Click here to get a printable compass with general play rug / wooden town direction prompts to use during your child’s playtime!

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Exploring Compass Directions through Play


Julie Kieras

Julie Kieras mothers two inquisitive boys with the support of her husband in the lovely four seasons of New England. She is often found at home interpreting toddler-speak, elbow deep in Play Dough, or behind the pages of a book. She blogs about her family life at HappyStrongHome.com.

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