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Teaching Kids Orienteering

We have been teaching kids orienteering for years. What are the key lessons that we've learned? Here are some:

Keep kids moving.

What doesn't work: starting off by lecturing kids for 20 minutes. You've lost them!

Instead, start with a fun activity that takes one sentence of directions. Here are some examples:

  • "Find all the cones."

  • "Tag - you're it!"

  • "Let's play Simon Says!"

  • "You have five minutes to find the clothespin with your name on it."

Make sure every kid gets it.

We want every student in a class to be able to orienteer, not just those with existing map-reading skills. To that end, we have a progression of activities relating to map understanding. We introduce the orienteering map only toward the end.

Use multiple modes of teaching - different kids have different learning styles.

Check in - use assessment tools to make sure that every child understands. For example, if they are supposed to visit controls in order in a game, how are you checking? Sometimes it's OK to just ask them if they understand.

Don't be too mysterious.

Mystery is fun. Getting clues to solve a problem is fun. But having no idea what you're going to be doing for the next hour, or why? Not so fun.

Ideally, you'll find a way to tell the kids what to expect before they even arrive at your class or your event. How much running will they do? Will they get to pick their own teams? How long will it last? Will there be food? What if they need to use the bathroom? People like to know what to expect.

Engage them in the learning goal. Tell them, and make them a partner in achieving it.

Encourage kids to help their classmates learn too.

Let kids work together.

An experienced orienteer once suggested to me that kids not be allowed to do courses together, because then they would not pay attention and learn.

We disagree.

Kids almost always have more fun when they are with other people. Team problem-solving is a key skill for kids to learn these days. It's often easier for a student to learn from another student than from the teacher, when they are stuck.

Having said that, of course you need to structure the activities so that teams will be working well together, and take responsibility for everyone on the team learning.

But whenever possible, find ways for kids to work together. It's not cheating. It's learning.

Tell us what you have learned in teaching children!

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