Teach your kids these 2 Natural Navigation techniques

January 3, 2021

When we go hiking up the hills, we navigate using the OS Maps app if we are not walking a route we know well.

Is it possible to navigate without modern technology? We set up a little challenge to navigate by nature.

The Natural Navigation Challenge Map

To get started on this challenge we picked out a route on an OS map with points of interest to head for and sketched out a very rough map with basic instructions for the kids to follow.

All they had to do was work out which way was North, South, etc. using the sun! Easy?

Navigation Challenge Map

Our first navigation technique used nothing more than the sun and a watch.

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How to use a watch to navigate

All you need is a watch and the sun!

How you do it depends on if you are in the northern or southern hemisphere. As we are in the northern hemisphere, we’ll start with that method first.

Lay the watch flat and face up. The face should be parallel with the ground.

Point the hour hand and yourself in the direction of the sun.

Now bisect the angle between 12 and the hour hand. This gives you the South-North line. If you are in the southern hemisphere, you will need to point 12’o’clock at the sun to give you a north-south line.

Navigation using a watch

We used this method on reaching our first via point and we were soon off again on our adventure.

The next method we tried was using a shadow stick ( my favourite as there was something visual to see )

How to use a shadow stick

Using a shadow stick

All that is needed is a long stick ( needs to be at least 1 meter tall ), a couple of stones and, of course, the sun!

Place the stick in the ground. Note that the sun casts a shadow of the stick.

Mark shadow with a stone

With a stone mark the end of the shadow. This is your West line.

You then have to wait 15-20 mins for the shadow to move.

We took advantage of the wait by having a drink and snack!

The temptation of moving the stone was hard for my youngest one, but watching the shadow move was a welcome distraction.

After 15 or 20 minutes, place another stone on the new shadow point. This becomes your East point.

Mark the new shadow position

If you stand on the East-West shadow line with West to your left, you are now looking North.

After working out our bearings, we moved on to the next point.

Failed at step 1 – The Map!

The challenge was to reach the waterfall, but we never quite made it.

Somewhere at the beginning of the route, we had taken the wrong path, not through natural navigation but due to an error plotting the instructions! The map we had initially used was old and the path we should have taken was no longer there. Somehow we had taken a different path!!

It didn’t  matter though as the challenge was to navigate by nature and that is what we achieved and learnt.

It was good to try something new and left a sense of achievement not relying on technology. In a funny sort of way, it felt like you had travelled back in time!

Mission Accomplished - sort of

Natural Navigation is a great little activity that the whole family can get involved in.

You could simply have a go at it on a walk or set up a challenge (suitable for the age group) like we did. It doesn’t cost a penny to have a go and you never know when you might need these navigation skills.

There are other natural ways to navigate by nature – using the stars and observing trees and moss growth. Why not have a go and see if you can find your direction.

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Shell Grayston
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Shell Grayston

Mum to three kids and loves getting out and about with them. Co-founded Get Out With The Kids to help other parents enjoy getting out and about with their kids. You can often find Shell on Twitter @GetOutKids.

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