7 Tips for Orienteering with Kids: Making Outdoor Adventures Fun and Safe

July 01, 2024 8 min read

Orienteering is a fun and educational outdoor activity that you can enjoy with your kids. It involves using a map and compass to navigate through unfamiliar terrain, making it a great way for children to develop their problem-solving skills and love for nature.

A group of children and adults gather around a map, compass, and trail markers in a lush forest setting. The kids eagerly listen as the leader explains the basics of orienteering, while the sun peeks through the trees overhead

What are the best ways to make orienteering engaging and safe for your children? This article provides essential tips that will help you prepare and guide your kids through their orienteering adventures, ensuring a memorable and instructive experience for the whole family.

1) Start with Simple Maps

Introduce your children to orienteering by using simple maps. Begin with maps of familiar areas, such as your neighborhood or a local park. These locations offer an easy entry point, reducing confusion and building confidence.

Ensure the maps are easy to read with clear landmarks. Avoid intricate details. Highlight paths and significant points like playgrounds, benches, and water fountains.

Point out symbols and colors used on the map. Explain what they represent. This will help your children link the map features with actual objects.

Practice using the map together. Show how to orient it to match the terrain. Let them take turns holding the map and identifying features.

Use a compass to reinforce direction skills. Demonstrate how to align it with the map. This will make it easier for them to navigate.

Incorporate games to make learning fun. For example, set up a treasure hunt using the map. Let your children find landmarks and reach small goals.

These initial steps will prepare them for more complex maps in future orienteering activities.

2) Use a Compass Together

A compass lying on a map, surrounded by child-friendly orienteering gear and nature elements. The sun is shining, casting shadows on the ground

Introduce the compass to your kids by explaining its basic parts, such as the needle and the base plate. Show them how the needle always points north. Let them hold the compass and practice turning it to align the needle with the north mark.

Plan a simple course that you can navigate together using the compass. This can be a series of checkpoints in a park or backyard. Follow the compass directions to reach each point. Let your kids take turns holding the compass and leading the way.

Encourage your kids to keep the map oriented correctly using the compass. This helps them understand how the two tools work together. Teach them to always keep the compass level and steady while taking a bearing.

Practice estimating distances and directions as you go. For instance, show them how many steps it takes to cover a certain distance and check against the compass bearing. This practical experience builds their confidence in using the compass in real situations.

Make the activity fun by incorporating games or challenges using the compass. For example, hide a small object and use the compass to give them bearings to find it. This keeps them engaged and improves their navigational skills.

3) Pack Essential Gear

Packing the right gear is crucial when orienteering with kids. Make sure you have a detailed map of the area you’ll be exploring. A compass is essential for navigation and will help you stay on track.

Dress in layers to manage varying weather conditions. Waterproof jackets and sturdy hiking boots are a must. Don’t forget hats and gloves in colder weather to keep everyone comfortable.

Bring a first aid kit for emergencies. Include bandages, antiseptic wipes, and tweezers. This ensures minor injuries can be treated immediately. Hydration is key, so pack enough water for everyone, and consider bringing snacks for energy boosts.

A whistle can be an important safety tool. It allows kids to signal if they are lost or in trouble. Also, ensure each adult carries a fully charged mobile phone for communication.

Carry sunscreen and bug repellant to protect from sunburn and insect bites. These items will help keep everyone comfortable during the adventure.

Backpacks should be lightweight but durable. Each child can carry their own small pack with personal items. Ensure that the weight is manageable for them to avoid fatigue.

4) Practice Safety Rules

Before heading out, ensure your kids understand the basics of orienteering safety. Always carry a map, compass, and a whistle. Teach them how to use these tools efficiently.

Establish a meeting point in case someone gets lost. Make sure everyone knows this location well. It can be a clearly identifiable landmark.

Dress appropriately for the weather. Layers are advisable in colder months, and lighter clothing in warmer ones. Don't forget sun protection, like hats and sunscreen.

Provide each child with a small backpack containing water, snacks, and a basic first aid kit. Emphasize the importance of staying hydrated and having the right supplies.

Make clear that sticking together is crucial. Pair up children if necessary. Avoid letting anyone wander off on their own, as this can quickly lead to dangerous situations.

Finally, discuss what to do in case of an emergency. Explain how to signal for help using a whistle or a loud voice. Ensure they understand the importance of staying in one place if they are lost.

5) Make it a Game

A group of kids navigate through a forest using maps and compasses. They search for hidden markers and work together to find their way through the wilderness

Turn orienteering into a fun game to keep kids engaged. Use a treasure hunt format where they search for specific points marked on the map. Offer small rewards at each checkpoint to maintain excitement and motivation.

Another idea is to create a bingo-style game. Draw a grid with different landmarks or features that kids need to find. This encourages observation skills and keeps the activity dynamic.

Set up friendly competitions to add a bit of excitement. Timing each participant or team and rewarding the fastest times can spark healthy competition. Remember to prioritize fun and safety over speed.

Incorporate storytelling into the game. Create a narrative where kids are explorers on a mission. This can turn a simple hike into an adventure, making the activity even more engaging.

Invite kids to hide something for you to find. This reverses roles and gives them a sense of responsibility. It also helps them understand the challenges of navigation from a different perspective.

6) Plan Breaks and Snacks

A family picnic blanket spread with a map, compass, and healthy snacks. Children's backpacks and water bottles nearby. Trees and a trail in the background

Make sure to include regular breaks during your orienteering adventures. Kids have shorter attention spans and lower endurance compared to adults. Pausing frequently helps keep them engaged and avoids fatigue.

Bring a variety of snacks to keep their energy levels up. Healthy options like fruits, nuts, and granola bars are great choices. Avoid sugary snacks, as they can lead to energy crashes.

Hydration is just as important as food. Pack plenty of water and remind your kids to drink regularly. Dehydration can sneak up quickly, especially during physical activity.

Choose break spots that offer some shade and a comfortable place to sit. A scenic view or a point of interest can make the break more enjoyable and rewarding.

Encourage kids to rest and relax during breaks. This downtime gives them a chance to recharge their energy and enthusiasm.

Make snack times fun by incorporating them into the adventure. Turn them into mini-picnics or story-telling sessions to keep the mood light and cheerful.

Planning breaks and snacks effectively can make your orienteering trip enjoyable and successful for everyone involved.

7) Teach Map Symbols

Teaching map symbols is essential for kids learning orienteering. Start by introducing simple symbols like trees, rivers, and trails. Use a real map to show examples.

Explain how each symbol represents different features found in nature. For example, a blue line usually indicates a water feature, while a green area often signifies a forest.

Use flashcards to quiz your kids on the symbols. This makes learning fun and interactive. Practice regularly to ensure they remember the symbols.

Take your kids on short hikes with a map. Let them point out the symbols they recognize. This reinforces their learning in a real-world setting.

Make use of apps or online tools that offer interactive map symbol quizzes. These can be helpful for additional practice and engagement.

Encourage your kids to create their own mini-maps. Drawing their own symbols helps solidify their understanding.

Reiterate the importance of recognizing these symbols for safety and navigation during orienteering activities. This knowledge builds their confidence and skills.

Understanding Orienteering Maps

A colorful orienteering map with symbols and a compass, surrounded by trees and trails in a forest setting

Orienteering maps are detailed and use specific symbols, colors, and contour lines to represent terrain features. Mastering these elements is crucial for accurate navigation.

Map Symbols and Colors

Orienteering maps use a standardized set of symbols and colors. Green areas typically denote dense vegetation which can impede progress. White areas represent clear, runnable forest. Blue represents water features such as streams, lakes, and marshes. Yellow signifies open land or fields. Man-made features like buildings and roads are shown in black.

Key symbols to know include:

  • Triangular symbols: Control points.
  • Circles: Water sources.
  • Lines with dots: Trails and paths.

Understanding these symbols ensures you can quickly identify key landmarks and terrain features during your journey.

Contour Lines and Elevation

Contour lines on a map show elevation and the shape of the terrain. Each line represents a constant elevation level, and the distance between lines indicates the steepness of the slope. Close lines mean steep terrain, while widely spaced lines signify gentle slopes.

Different types of contour lines:

  • Index Contours: Thicker lines that usually have numbers indicating elevation.
  • Intermediate Contours: Thinner lines between index contours.
  • Supplementary Contours: Used in flat areas with little change in elevation.

Recognizing these lines helps you understand the topography, allowing you to plan routes that avoid steep climbs or descents.

Using a Compass with Maps

A map and compass together provide precise navigation. Start by orienting the map with the compass. Align the map's north with the compass needle pointing north. This ensures that the map accurately represents the terrain around you.

Steps for using a compass:

  1. Set the map: Position it on a flat surface.
  2. Compass Orientation: Place the compass on the map, aligning the edge with a known direction.
  3. Adjust for declination: Correct for any regional magnetic variation.

Using these steps, you can establish direction and move from one location to another accurately.

Safety Tips for Orienteering with Kids

When orienteering with kids, safety is paramount. Key topics include preparing a comprehensive safety kit, knowing emergency procedures, and teaching children how to stay on track.

Preparing a Safety Kit

A well-prepared safety kit is essential. Include basic first-aid supplies like bandages, antiseptic wipes, and tweezers. Add a whistle and a flashlight with extra batteries. Pack plenty of water and high-energy snacks.

Checklist for Safety Kit:

  • First-aid supplies
  • Whistle
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Water
  • High-energy snacks
  • Compass and map

Ensure everyone knows the contents of the kit and how to use them. Regularly check and replenish the kit before each outing.

Emergency Procedures

Familiarize yourself with the area and its emergency resources. Know the location of the nearest medical facilities. Create a plan for different scenarios like injuries or getting lost.

Practice basic survival skills and ensure each child knows what to do in an emergency.

Emergency Contact List:

  • Local emergency numbers
  • Nearest hospital contact
  • Family members or friends

Discuss the plan with the kids before starting. Make sure they understand the importance of staying calm and following procedures.

Teaching Kids to Stay on Track

Teach kids the importance of staying on the marked trails. Show them how to read a compass and map. Explain the "buddy system" where they always have a partner.

Conduct a simple exercise to teach them how to use landmarks. Reinforce the rule of never wandering off alone.

Key Points:

  • Read a compass and map
  • Use the buddy system
  • Stay on marked trails
  • Identify and use landmarks

Regular practice helps ensure that kids can navigate safely.