In my previous life I taught middle school. It was always toward the end of October that my students and I really started to get into the groove of school. Hopefully by now your kids — and you — are finding some kind of balance within this “new normal.” This is a fun outdoor activity that can be modified for many learning levels and takes advantage of these last sunny days of fall.
I recommend this activity for kids ages 7-11, but I honestly think my 8th graders would get excited if pitched the right way. I also must give credit to my then eight-year-old friend, Sylvester, who came up with this last spring when schools first shut down. He was slogging through workbook pages learning about cardinal directions and wanted instead to go outside. The deal? If he could think of a way to incorporate the ideas he was learning into an outside activity. Below is his brilliant, educational, and fun idea.
Skills learned and practiced:
- Cardinal directions
- Writing and following directions
- Using a compass
- At least two people
- Spiral notebook (or paper and a clipboard)
- Compass – a real one, or the compass app on most smartphones
- A treasure (small piece of candy, toy, note, etc.)
It’s more or less like making a hidden treasure map, except you list the directions using north, east, south, and west. There are lots of variations to be made, but here are the basics.
- Person one (P1) starts from the front door with a compass, notebook, pencil, treasure, and a close destination in mind (within 5-ish blocks).
- Using the compass, write down the first direction using cardinal directions, ex: “From the front door, head NW on Alma St. until you get to the stop sign.”
- Continue using compass to write down second, third, fourth, etc. directions, ex: “At the stop sign, turn and walk SW on Smith St. for two blocks. Stop at the second stop sign.”
- Now it’s up to you how detailed you want to get. It’s easier to stay on streets with sidewalks and use the street names, stop signs, or blocks as easy markers, but it’s also fun to venture off the streets! Ex: “Turn and face south, then walk forward 30 steps until you are inside the park looking at the baseball field.” “From here, face SW and walk straight toward the fir tree with the sign on it.” “Look down, pick up the big rock and look underneath.”
- Hide your treasure.
- Once directions are written down, P1 comes home and hands them to P2 (probably your kid).
- P2 takes the directions along with a compass and follows them to find the treasure.
- Switch roles and now P2 goes out, writes their own directions, hides a surprise, and comes back to give directions to P1.
And that’s it! Below are tips and ideas to differentiate based on the age and skill level of your child:
- Make directions as straightforward as possible. Every intersection should be accounted for to avoid confusion.
- If you’re lucky enough to have another adult or older child in your house, they can act as a guide helping the younger one read the directions and ensure proper compass usage. Obviously, if they’re very young, you’d want to go with them as they followed your directions.
- When I first did this with Sylvester we had walkie talkies. I took one with me and wrote directions, but then hid myself somewhere in the neighborhood (the dugout of the nearby baseball diamond) and read him directions over the walkie talkie until he found me. It was So. Much. Fun. This is a good option if you have an emerging reader as it enables them to simply listen to the directions one by one. They will still be practicing all the same skills! Phones also work, but who are we kidding – walkie talkies are just fun. And you get to say “over” every time you talk!
- Older kids with friends in the neighborhood could do this activity together. Since it’s all done outside they could easily be masked and socially distanced. How much fun would it be to find a surprise left by a friend!
- You can add in the language of degrees depending on your kid’s skill level. Ex: “Stand on home plate facing the pitcher’s mound. Turn your body 45° to the right, then walk forward until you are standing on first base. ”
Diana is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, OR with her son and cat. She likes words, history, and playing catch.