Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Making a Compass

Today we made our own compass using a bowl of water, a cork, a needle, piers, and a magnet.  I used the presentations from our Karen Tyler geography album for not only making the compass but for reviewing the cardinal directions.  If you'd like to take a look at that album and are a member of the Yahoo group "Playschool6" it is available for free in the files section.

The boys, being the naturalists that they are, were already familiar with the compass (they steal mine daily) the idea that the needle "points north", and that south is opposite of north (at least Kal-El).  We have had scavenger hunts in the house using the compass.  I hide something in an envelope for each child and in the way of "hints" I tell the boys what level of the house they are hidden in and whether they are "north" or "south."

The more the boys feel they have chosen their work, or intruded on work of mine, the more excited they are about it.  When it comes to our "culture" works, whenever possible I just strew the tempting tidbits somewhere in the house and wait for them to clamor to find out what it is.  Today I simply put together this tray, set it out on the kitchen table, and went about doing the breakfast dishes.  The boys were busy building a "polar bear habitat" in Kal-El's room and were so engrossed that they walked past it several times before they were close enough to finished with that work to notice this one.  Kal-El noticed it first, shook like a golden retriever, then ran upstairs to fetch his brother and inform him about the mysterious items including TOOLS on the table.   When they asked what it was I told them, "I was going to make a compass today.  Would you like to make it with me?"  I find that this is a lot more exciting than:  "Boys, come sit at the kitchen table so I can show you how to make a compass."  Although, often times that can work too.  Sometimes it has to if your "delectable tidbits" receive the cold shoulder for a few days in a row.

 We explored our store-bought compass for a while and used it to mark "north" on the table with the directional arrow provided in Karen's album.

 Then, the boys took turns rubbing the needle against the magnet until the needle was suitable magnetized.  I put the needle through the cork with the pliers (It helps to do this once beforehand so you have a  pilot hole.  I used a hammer to drive it through the first time.  Actually, I used my meat tenderizer because I was in the kitchen and was too lazy to go to the basement to get the hammer.  If you have read my blog for a long time you know this is not the first time such shenanigans have taken place.).

It is creepily fun to watch the needle and cork turn to face north as if controlled by a ghostly hand. You can find a video of that type of thing on YouTube.

If you click on the above picture to enlarge it you should be able to see that it has turned to match the direction of the marker on the table.

The boys each took a turn dropping the cork back into the bowl to watch it turn to the north a few more times.

Afterward, I presented south, east, and west.  Although the walls of our house frustratingly face the ordinal directions rather than cardinal, the way our family sits at the kitchen table is conveniently dead-on.  The boys had fun talking about how Kal-El sits to the west, Daddy to the north, Mommy to the south, and Me Too to the east.

We followed up by marking all four directions in the family room.

I put the cardinal direction markers on the shelf in the school room along with the compass so that the boys could independently choose to practice finding the directions in other rooms of the house.  After they have had some more practice the boys will receive their very own compasses.

I am waiting a bit because the compasses I bought for them do not have needles.  This is going to be good because they are not quite ready to understand how they need to turn the compass so that north is under the needle.  Despite several explanations they are still confused when the needle has the wrong letter under it and are resistent to turning it.

The new compasses have a floating dial instead and look like this:

The boys will also be thrilled to discover that these compasses can also double as whistles:

I found them in-store at The Learning Shop for $1.99 each.

Kal-El has taken this work out several times today to practice finding the directions in various rooms of the house.  Here is a poor shot of him (sunlight issues) marking the directions in the school room:

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  1. What a great science activity tray ... love it! Thanks so much for linking up with Montessori Monday. I featured your post at the Living Montessori Now Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/LivingMontessoriNow

  2. This is fantastic! I'm sharing it on my site, and we're going to do it this week... at least I'll leave out the tray and we'll see. I'm in total agreement about that technique and must remember to use it more often.