The Four Directions

Compass Rose

Image courtesy of Simon Howden,

It is very handy to know the four directions: north, south, east and west. If we wish to go to a certain place, knowing which direction to take is very helpful. A long time ago before there were roads and maps, people used the sky to tell them what direction they were going. During the day they would use the sun, and at night they would use the stars.

Have you ever watched the sun rise? When you wake up in the morning, have a look from the windows in your house. Which window is the sun coming through? Which window does it shine through in the late afternoon? The direction in which the sun rises is called “east”. The direction in which the sun sets is called “west”. If you stand outside when the sun first peeks over the horizon so that the morning sun shines on your face, you are facing toward the east. If you turned so that the morning sun shone on your back, you would be facing toward the west.

During the middle of the day in Canada, the sun shines on the south side of your house and any shadows will be pointing in a northerly direction. The north side of things does not get a lot of sun which is why you may notice that moss quite often grows on the north side of trees.

One night you might like to go outside and try to find the big dipper in the sky. You will need to face north and look up. The Big Dipper looks like a cooking pot with a long handle. The two bright stars in the big dipper farthest from the handle (the side of the pot) are called the pointer stars. If you follow a line through these stars, five times as long as the distance between the pointer stars, you will come to a medium bright star, the North Star. This star helps to make up the handle of the Little Dipper and it is always in the northern sky.

If it is cloudy and you cannot see the sun or the stars, it is still possible to find your way using something called a compass. It is a little box with an arrow swinging on top of a pin. When this arrow is still, it points to the north. Once you know where north is, you can easily find south, west and east!

Tip: Sometimes, it is easier to remember things by using a little sentence. You might want to remember these directions by a little phrase “Never Eat Shredded Wheat” so that the first letter of each word stands for a direction going around in the way a clock does (clockwise).

PROJECT: Take some time to draw a map of where you live. Pretend you are up in the sky looking down. What would you see? Try to draw the things you might see: the road in front, your driveway, big trees in your yard, a flower garden. What shape is your house? Can you mark where your bedroom is inside your house? What side of the house are you on when you look out your window? When you have completed your map, remember where you noticed that the sun rises in the morning and draw in where north, east, south and west are. Draw a compass rose.

History of the Compass

Finding True North

How to Navigate Using the Stars


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