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History of the Compass: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Tiffany Hightower

Tiffany is a certified elementary school teacher. She has a B.A. in English, education certification and a master's degree in education from Central Michigan University.

A compass is a cool device that helps people travel north, south, east and west by using Earth's magnetic field. Continue reading to learn the interesting history of compasses and how they are used today.

Why Are Compasses Important?

Have you ever played with a toy compass, or used a compass to help you to walk towards the north, south, east or west outdoors with your friends? Children usually use compasses for fun exploration outdoors. However, compasses have other important purposes as well.

A compass is a tool that is labeled with the directions north, south, east and west, and has a magnetic needle that always points north. Since the needle is always pointed north, people determine the other directions in relation to the north position. Therefore, the south is labeled as the opposite direction of the north, the east is labeled towards the right, and the west is labeled towards the left.

A compass shows direction and helps with travel. The magnetic needle is inside of this compass and turns the arrows on the top to the correct direction.
A compass

When you travel in a car around your neighborhood, you probably notice signs that say north, south, east and west on expressways or streets. People knew how to label these signs because of a compass that tells directions. However, there are no street signs on enormous oceans for ships, or in the sky for airplanes. So, sophisticated compasses help to direct ships and airplanes in the correct direction to get to destinations. Let's take a closer look at the history of the compass, and how they were enhanced for navigation, or travel in the right direction around the world.

How Did People Discover Compasses?

Throughout history inventions were created because people wanted to figure out how to do something easier or to make new discoveries. People long ago began to notice that Earth has a magnetic field, which is a force that pulls objects towards it, and that iron could become magnetized by rubbing them with a magnetic stone called lodestone. They also noticed that the magnetic field of the Earth always caused the magnet to naturally point towards the north and south.

As a result, they created a compass by placing a labeled lodestone magnetic needle that could spin on a piece of wood or other material to know the directions of north, south, east and west. This is how the compass was invented. As years went on, compasses became easier to use by adding labels that showed all of the directions. Compasses provided people with another way to travel besides using the stars and sun for direction.

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