Maps and compasses! I helped with Cub Scout Day Camp last year, too, in the same capacity. It's neat to see the boys learn about a skill that is seeming more and more outdated, though is still very important. With GPS capabilities in our cars, phones, cameras, and more, do we still need compasses with magnetic north and maps to find the way? I say yes!
We are in a transition in this area, though, so I'm curious as to where we go and if requirements to learn about these will be changed. I asked my husband who said GPS units can run out of batteries, be subject to selective availability (used previously so only military had precise measurements--not used after 2000), it's easy to keep a record of your track in coastal waters (he's from a Navy background) and is required by law in these cases, etc. "Prudent people will always have a paper back up, that doesn't run out of batteries or is not dependent on a satellite system."
We started our session talking about basic map skills, highlighting the compass rose, Never Eat Soggy Wheat (North, East South, West), how to orient a map, basic parts of a compass, magnetic north, the concept of a pace, and how to use the compass. I had a great, ENTHUSIASTIC helper who made it much easier. Thanks! He took half the boys to work on map skills in more depth while I took the other half to the field to work on using the compass.
This was the center spot. We always came back here for our next direction, though these could be set up in different ways.
Here are a few tips from a Cub Scout group. These are my tips for using a compass:
- Make a flat shelf with your hand and put it against the belly, with the pinky all along the belly rather than the base of the hand. The children will resist this, but they can do it.
- Place the compass lightly on top of this flat, flat shelf. Do not grab the compass or move the hand. It will make the reading a little "off". This is REALLY hard for young boys to do, but they can do it with a little practice and lots of reminders. Honestly, the boys who did best had been exposed to orienteering before, so doing this every few months can help children learn how to use a compass better. Practice and repetition do wonders.
- Introduce the direction of travel arrow. Most children (and some adults) want to follow what I call the "wiggly arrow". This is the arrow that always points to magnetic north. It moves while we walk. If we follow this, we'll end up all over the place as it wiggles and jostles in our hand or go straight toward the North Pole. This should be pointing out away from the child's belly. This should be checked at each step until the children get used to it more. Keep them close as you line up what we're finding each time so it's easier to check everyone is going in the right direction.
- Once the direction for desired travel is dialed into the compass using the compass housing (line up the number on the circle that turns with the direction of travel arrow), turn your whole body to make the wiggly arrow line up with the two green lines (in the case of our compasses) or the other markings that line the wiggly arrow up with the north.
- Look for a landmark, such as a sign, picnic table or other item, in the distance of desired travel. While walking, keep this in sight and head toward this item while counting paces. If not, most participants will veer of course in a short amount of time as the compass jostles and jiggles while walking. It's okay to stop and "check yourself" to make sure on course, but still watch for that point in the distance.
- A pace is the distance between 2 steps. Most orienteering courses are phrased in paces. This concept can be introduced at an early stage. I practiced chanting, "Left, right, ONE! Left, right, TWO!", etc. as we walked our paces to our destination. There was a tendency to run to the treasure box when they saw it; however, slowing them down to actually walk out the paces is an important concept.
- Have fun, be silly, and give high fives when they find it! This can be difficult and frustrating for little hands that don't make flat shelves easily. However, it can be rewarding to see a child "get it". One boy said, "This is stupid" as we tried early on. I, however, am smarter than he is and knew that he was really just frustrated and didn't know how to do it yet. So, I said, "Let's give it a try. Let me teach you how to do it. You can do it!" It was great to see the light in his eye as he understood it better and realized it wasn't stupid, he wasn't stupid and that he COULD figure it out with a little help, guidance, and practice. Just FYI, stupid was the "s" word in our house growing up--we try to avoid it now as well, but it was the word choice of frustration for this child.
- Practice a few times! This gives confidence and reinforces the ability to use compasses. Bring the compasses out every few months for a short while to keep these skills up and add more.
The boys were excited to find a treasure chest at the end of each coordinate. The theme of the camp was High Seas, so there was a pirate theme to the activity. It was well put together; however, there were too many items for us to do in the amount of time available, so we just modified and did what we could. There are great volunteers that put all of this together!
Counting paces to the treasure. The nearby playground was a huge temptation!
Note the boy on the let has a proper flat shelf to hold the compass correctly. My son on the right with the lovely look on his face needs to back his hand back up to his chest, with the pinky along the top of his belly.
As we were leaving we saw a tree that was recently chopped down. My younger son returned each day to this spot to watch decomposition in process. He was excited to see it each time and just as curious on each observation. Connecting with nature doesn't have to take long, but taking time to be exposed to it works wonders.
He also found a feather on the ground he was excited about. He was excited about that, but left it for others to find.
Would you like to work on orienteering? There is a course set up by Boy Scouts near New Paris. Stop by the Elkhart County Parks office in Goshen for a copy of the course. I want to try it out, too!