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Navigation Tips to Teach Your Children in the Great Outdoors

Posted on 24-Aug-2015

Indeed, as well as getting to grips with all kinds of new skills through all kinds of optional activities, such as horseback riding at Bryce Canyon, a break in the great outdoors provides a brilliant opportunity to teach your kids something new in an engaging environment.

Take navigation, for instance - there's no better place to learn this skill than the great outdoors. While things like finding north and map reading might not particularly interest your children at home - and for teens, it may remind them too much of school geography lessons! - out in the exciting landscape of the American wilderness, these subjects take on a whole new allure.

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girl map reading

Photo credit: iStock

Few things beat a family holiday in the great outdoors - especially if the destination is somewhere as exciting as the USA. From thrilling adventures in Yosemite National Park to rafting down the Colorado River, your family will create some truly wonderful memories, and learn a lot in the process.

Our tours are a great opportunity to teach your children a few basic navigation skills - particularly as while they'll have the opportunity to use them, they won't actually have a need to, which means it isn't the end of the world if their attention wanders! Here are a few ideas to get you started.



Photo credit: iStock

Finding north in the dark

A good place to begin is finding north; it's something you can teach quite quickly and easily, and is a useful skill in a huge variety of situations. For children, finding north at night, when they can use the stars, is often more exciting than finding it in the daytime, so try that first.

Camping in a national park is the ideal time to do this, as the lack of light pollution gives you glorious views of the cosmos. Begin by helping your child find the Plough (known in the USA as the Big Dipper). Show them how it resembles a saucepan - this will help them with the next step, which is to find the two stars furthest from the 'handle' that makes up the far side of the 'saucepan'. Then, follow the line they make until you come to another star - this is the North Star, which sits directly above true north.


star gazing

Photo credit: iStock

Finding north in the daytime

It's easiest to find north during the day if you do so at midday, when you can simply use the sun. Start by making sure your child knows that in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. At midday, it'll be in the middle of the horizon to the south. That means they know that if they walk towards the sun at midday, they're going south, while if it's to their backs, they are going north.

Once you have taught them that, take the opportunity to stop for a moment at midday on other days and ask them which direction you're moving in; they should be able to tell you.

Map reading basics

In the days of GPS, it's easy enough to get by without a map - until the batteries fail. Map reading is an excellent skill to have, and is as much about understanding the landscape and taking note of your surroundings as it is getting from A to B. There are few better places to encourage your child to get to grips with this skill than the USA, where there are some truly thrilling landmarks to navigate by!

Start small

Large maps can be overwhelming for children, so start by gathering smaller maps of your chosen destination. Try to pick areas with clear landmarks - not only will these help your children get to grips with the various common symbols maps use, but they'll also help make it easier for kids to navigate successfully - and encourage them to try it again.

Teach symbols

Before reading a map with your child on one of your walks, it's worth sitting down and chatting through what the various symbols mean. Teach them how to identify roads and footpaths, as well as things like wooden areas and streams.

Often the most difficult part of map reading for children to grasp is contour lines, so you might need to spend a little more time helping them understand how these relate to the landscape.


Once your child is familiar with maps, it's time to use one on a walk together. If you do this with your tour guide, they will of course lead the way, but you can ask your child to follow your route along the map, talking you through how it relates to the landscape.

Alternatively, you can use a little of your free time to go on a short walk together, with your child leading the way. Pick an end destination that will require you to pass a few distinctive landmarks along the way to make it a little bit easier - and more fun!


family map reading


Travelling on a small group tour means our tour leaders can take away all of the stress of organising and driving, so you have more quality time to spend with your children and help teach them new skills such as navigation.

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Topics: Family Adventures