I admit, I threw my hands up in the air and walked away after 13 times my daughter declared that West was actually South.
What the heck had I gotten myself into? How did I think I could teach my own child, especially abstract concepts? I knew good and well she was just as stubborn as me.
But there I was, my 6-month pregnant self, hopping from square to square with my child, desperately trying to teach cardinal directions, basic map and compass skills, and even introduce ordinal points.
And while she may not be able to find her own way out of the woods if lost just yet, my daughter at least knows that a compass is used for navigating, cardinal points are unchanging, and her mother will try to make really mundane topics really fun.
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Basic Map Skills & Cardinal Directions Worksheet
After reading the book Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert, we started discussing what cardinal directions were and headed out to a local park to practice using our new compass gadget.
For weeks, we have been addressing general and relative locations such as left and right, up and down, and even concepts like behind. But this time, we decided to “follow the leaves” and make a little game tracking them on a grid map using basic cardinal points as well as ordinal directions like “Northwest” and other intercardinal points.
I have created a 3-page instruction and activity set you can download and use with your kiddos. Unfortunately, I am currently having some tech issues delivering the wrong printable… because I am sure you don’t want to know “all about spiders” instead of the map grid! You can make your own paper version of the game below by using the pictures as your guide until it is resolved or simply subscribe to the free printables newsletter and I will send it to you this week!
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Gross Motor Play to understand North, South, East, and West
Learning left and right, while in and of itself is difficult, cardinal directions seem to be so abstract to kids. When learning simple directions like left and right, it’s relative to the child. But understanding cardinal directions means understanding that there is permanence and that directions are unmoving.
But by actually getting kids on their own grid map, they can understand the concept of permanency and the unchanging nature of North, South, East, and West.
Armed with her own kids’ compass in hand and labels on each side of the map, she was able to begin orienteering the leaf map.
There is a visual element to physically interacting with the compass needle as well as following verbal instructions, making a wonderful cardinal directions activity & game for tactile, visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners.
So take the cardinal directions worksheet with you to a playground along with some chalk and a compass, and get learning. Decide whether your child would thrive better learning the concepts first on paper or working with them on the playground and then reinforce with the other afterward.
Teaching kids to use a compass
Labeling your grid map to correctly correspond with the directions allows your student to see how a compass works.
Teach them that the red always points north and allow them to explore moving around on the map with their compass, cross-checking where they are with the labels written on the ground.
Then start asking them to use only their compass to go from one leaf to the next. Depending on how much they understand, start adding in intermediate directions by doing a variation of Simon says and they have to go “two hops southeast”.
Other “Leaf Man” by Lois Ehlert book extension activities
- Learning About Letters with Leaves & Falling Leaves Song – Kori at Home
- Beginning Sounds Activity: Leaf Sticker Tree- Growing Book by Book
- Letter Recognition Game with Free Leaf Printable
- Leaf Name Sticky Wall – Inspiration Laboratories
- Learn to Write Your Name with ‘Letter Man’ – Chickadee Lit
- Write Your Name In Leaves – Adventures of Adam
- Learning Fun With Leaves – Clare’s Little Tots
- Preschool Printable Counting Leaves-CraftCreateCalm
- Fall Loose Parts Sensory Invitation – My Storytime Corner
- Fall Leaf Auditory Processing Activities
- Preschool Leaf Science Experiment – Preschool Powol Packets
- Simple Preschool Science: Leaf Matching Activity– School Time Snippets
- Giant Colorful Watercolor Fall Leaves for Kids- Toddler Approved
- Basic Math with Fall Leaves for Preschoolers – Views From a Step Stool
- Leaf Art ~ Prewriting Patterns for Fall
- Leaf Tracing Pre-Writing Activity – Books and Giggles
- Leaf puppets
- Follow the leaves: Cardinal Directions and Map Skills for kids – Extremely Good Parenting
- Leaf Art – Making scenes/people with leaves – Mama Smiles
- Exploring Leaf Shapes – Nature Walk Activity – To be a Kid Again
- Leaf Shapes Fingerprint Activity – Artsy Momma
Kara is an author and advocate for positive, grace-filled parenting. She is homeschooler to her 4 children living in Boston, MA and believes in creative educational approaches to help kids dive deeper into a rich learning experience. She has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development and is passionate about connecting with and helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!