Chart a Course for Fun! Compass Making in the Library

Please excuse the cheesy title, I just couldn’t resist!

Now that the cold, dark days of winter are finally upon us, what better time to cast our minds back to the long, hot days of summer? The theme for our provincial Summer Reading Club this year was “Walk on the Wild Side”, and all of our programs and activities focused in some way on nature and the great outdoors. Even though I work in a major (by Canadian standards…) metropolitan area, we’re lucky in that we’re never too far from nature, no matter where in the city you go!


While preparing for one of our programs, which focused on compasses, directions and mapping, I went on the hunt for activities that would suit that a younger, less dexterous audience. Our programs are generally designed for kids ranging from Kindergarten to Grade 7, but the participants at some of our locations tend to skew pretty young, with most kids hovering around the preschool-Grade 1 range.

I needed an activity that was simple and easy to create, even for little fingers. Many compass activities involve magnetizing a sewing needle, which would  work well with older kids, but didn’t necessarily suit some of our younger explorers.

This easy compass activity had my kids staring in awe at their creations – and all you need is paper, scissors, a strong magnet, paper clips and a small, shallow bowl of water to test out the compasses! The materials are easy to source (and inexpensive – perfect for librarians on a budget).


There are a few different ways of making a paper clip compass, but I found this version to be the easiest. The most challenging aspect of the project is magnetizing the paper clips – kids need to rub their paper clip along the magnet IN ONE DIRECTION (not back and forth). You also want to be sure to rub from SOUTH to NORTH, otherwise your little compasses will turn to face the opposite direction! We told our kids to rub the paperclip on the magnet 100 times, which offered some great counting practice, too, but generally the more you rub the paper clip along the magnet, the stronger the magnetization will be, and the better the result!

Kids took turns gently placing their compasses in shallow bowls of water, and watched in fascination as the paper circles slowly rotated to face north. It looks like magic, but it’s really SCIENCE!

And of course, because this is a library program, I just have to include some great books to go along with a map-making theme!

Mapping Penny’s World

Mapping Penny's World



Me on the Map


There’s a Map on my Lap


Follow That Map! A First Book of Mapping Skills


The Once Upon a Time Map Book


Now get out there and explore!

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  • Reply lindabaie

    It is a terrific activity, Jane, and thanks for the list of books, too. I will note some. My older granddaughter loves maps.

    November 9, 2017 at 3:53 am
  • Reply Michele

    I need to flag this post because I feel like many of our grade levels do some mapping skills. Great post!

    November 12, 2017 at 2:16 pm
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