The Compass Rose

                                  “Jennie, what’s that?
Those three words are music to my ears, because it means there will be a new journey to discovery.  When children are curious, I am fired up, raring to go.  I grab on to what they ask, and the adventure to learning begins.

This is real teaching, guided by children and their interest, not guided by curriculum.  They ask, I answer.  We learn together.

We’re learning about France.  When we begin learning about a country or continent, we aways start with our Big Book Atlas.  It is a favorite in the classroom, and thank goodness we often get side tracked in the best of ways.

As we looked at the map of the world, figuring out where France is, Harry asked, “Jennie, what’s that?”  He pointed to the small compass rose.

Yes, it’s in the bottom right hand corner.  I told Harry and the children, “That’s a compass rose.  It shows you the directions printed on a map.  See the points?  Each has a letter; N, S, E, W.”  We talked about North, South, East, and West.  We talked about the points on the compass.  Then we looked at the world map and really discussed directions.  What direction is France in relation to Massachusetts?

Wait!  I have a compass on my phone!  I pulled it up, and we walked with the phone everywhere- north, south, east, and west.  This took forever.  Children couldn’t get enough of changing directions walking along with the compass.

What direction does the sun set?  We figured out west.  What direction is France from Massachusetts?  Yes, east.  We set up the classroom chairs facing east to ‘travel’ to France.  Oh, we had a travel box full of maps and real foreign currency.  We were ready, thanks to the compass, and learning about the compass rose on the atlas.

The story and the learning get better.

A few weeks later children were playing on the playground.  There are play houses by the sandbox, and the biggest one is set up like a school house with a big chalkboard, an alphabet, and a map.  All of a sudden Lucy came running over to me, yelling “Jennie!  You have to come right now!  It’s the thing on your phone!”  She was ready to burst.

I had no idea what she was talking about.

Lucy pulled me hard by my hand into the playhouse.  She pointed to the map on the wall.  “There it is!”  Oh my goodness.  There was a compass rose on the map.

We had the best time with the compass rose.  Lucy wanted me to pull up the compass on my phone so we could walk around the playground in different directions.  We did.  Other children joined in.  It was wonderful.

The story doesn’t end here.  It gets better.

Our current chapter reading book is “Little House on the Prairie” by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Last week Pa finished building the log house.  This is what I read at chapter reading:

“On top of the walls they set up a skeleton roof of slender poles.  Then in the south wall they cut a tall hole for the door, and in the west wall and the east wall they cut square holes for windows.”

I stopped and put down the book.  I often stop during chapter reading to talk about what just happened.  This was important, this was exactly what we learned with the compass and the compass rose and the atlas.

“Do you know why Pa cut the door hole on the south side?  That’s the warm side.  He cut the window holes on the east side and west side to see the sun rise and the sun set.  He didn’t cut anything on the north side.  That’s the cold side.”

We talked about the atlas.  Children remembered.  It was another moment to connect what we had learned.  I seize those moments.  They are the stars in the universe.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
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73 Responses to The Compass Rose

  1. pastorpete51 says:

    Beautiful…I have read the Little House Books twice and never stopped to think of why they built the house that way!

  2. Darlene says:

    I love how you describe these teachable moments. Something as simple as a compass rose becomes an adventure.

  3. K.L. Hale says:

    I love every “direction” you go in leading discovery for kids! I still use an atlas, Jennie, and I remember well beginning geocaching with the older ones to discover hidden treasures. And see, look 👀 what you already done with these little ones!! You’re so awesome, Jennie! 💛

    • Jennie says:

      I love your ‘direction’, as discovery happens at the moment, on the fly, and a teacher has to seize that moment. The smallest question can sometimes lead to the biggest discoveries. Thank you for sharing your teaching journey discoveries. We are the lucky ones! Many thanks for your kind words, K.L.

  4. Dan Antion says:

    This is the essence of the best kind of learning, Jennie. :earning that is cumulative. They learn one thing and apply it to so many other things. This is so much more important than remembering isolated facts, dates and dry statistics. You are the best.

    • Jennie says:

      Yes! Cumulative learning is real learning. You are spot on, Dan. These children will always remember a compass rose and maps, not because it was taught in a dry way, but because ‘it happened’. Thank you for your meaningful comment and your kind words!

  5. Jim W. says:

    I wish you had been one of my teachers 😊

  6. srbottch says:

    Excellent, Jennie. I asked kids at the Curbside Classroom which direction we headed when crossing the street in the morning while staring at the sun. Surprisingly, it took several guesses before finally getting it right, east. Although one young lady did say ‘forward’…

    • Jennie says:

      See, you did it well at the Curbside Classroom, Steve. Like you, I’m surprised it took several guesses at ‘which direction’. ‘Forward’ was not one of the choices. Teaching i always a wonder, and a joy.
      Thank you, Steve.

  7. I got a learning rush just reading your post!!

  8. Ally Bean says:

    Delightful. I love how once you point something out to little kids they find it everywhere.

  9. beth says:

    Wonderful learning

  10. beetleypete says:

    Just as it got better in the classroom, it continues to get better on your blog. My wife should have been in your class that day, she still doesn’t understand NSEand W!
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you so much, Pete! It’s when husbands give driving directions in NSEW that we women can’t understand. Just tell us to turn left at the gas station instead of heading east. 🙂 Best to you, Pete.

  11. Isn’t is marvelous when those teaching moments click and are recognized outside the classroom! You’re a master teacher, Jennie!

  12. quiall says:

    Curiosity changes the world every single day. What a lovely exchange between you and the children.

  13. Excellent learning for the little ones. Thanks for sharing, Jennie.

  14. Ritu says:

    That is just lovely! 💜

  15. Such a beautiful description of learning in a loving sensitive way. Lovely Jennie.

  16. Don Ostertag says:

    What a fine teaching experience!

  17. Elizabeth says:

    If there was ever a reason to question the “common core” as the be all and end all of education, your teaching to the moment provides one. I never thought any of the discussions we had in school in the 1950’s were “off the subject.” I am sorry that kids are now experiencing that shutting down phrase.

    • Jennie says:

      You really hit the central nerve. The common core should be a guideline as to what children need to learn- not the pathway to get there. I want to scream to teachers to listen to children and embrace their questions. It’s like walking along a path in the woods with children: do you leave the path to pick flowers, or stay on the path to get to the end? I could go on… Thank you, Elizabeth.

  18. Stars all around! Wonderful lessons if geography, literacy and life, dear Jennie… Thanks!

  19. Lori-ize it! says:

    you have to love when the teachable moments continue and are revisited over and over in different settings. this is when children see the connection between what they learn in school and the world beyond the school walls

  20. petespringerauthor says:

    These real-life moments are the heart of teaching. When the kids connect something to prior learning, and we feel and see their excitement, how can it not fill us with enthusiasm? The curriculum is essential, but the most important education is the type you’re describing because I guarantee that Lucy will never forget that moment.

    • Jennie says:

      Yes! When those moments happen, I wish every teacher would ‘grab and run’! By the way, Lucy is taking Gloria home this weekend. She is beside herself. 🙂

  21. Hauntingcomforts says:

    Do your students actually call you “Jennie!” Or do you just put your name there in place of how the students really address you?

    Love the excitement and wonder of your students!

  22. CarolCooks2 says:

    Such a beautiful post…in the moment…I love it! I also envy your children they will leave you with such a variety of moments like this which will stay with them forever…I wish I could say that about my infant years at school 🙂 x

  23. Hi Jennie, the compass is a fun concept to explore with children. When I was a small girl, I remember reading Bad Tuesday, a chapter in the book Mary Poppins. The children go on a trip around the world to different compass point locations and meeting people who live at these extreme points. I never forgot that particular chapter.

  24. I stay home with my two boys and the teachable moments are endless. Thank you for sharing yours. It was fun to read 😊

  25. joywillcome says:

    Those stars in the universe are the motivation to keep going!! 🌌

  26. Jim Borden says:

    such lucky children to have a teacher who is so engaged in the learning process. a compass has always fascinated me as well…

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Jim. Who knew the compass would be a fascination? It was wonderful. I wouldn’t be surprised if something else surfaces with the compass. I’ll be there!

    • Jennie says:

      Jim, on a side note may I ask you why you close comments on your posts? I can’t always read them the day they’re published, and I would love to comment. Just wondering if it’s a time thing or something else.

      • Jim Borden says:

        Hi Jennie. I have decided to take a break from blogging, so my streak is over. It was getting to be too time consuming, and I have been quite busy at work this semester. So as part of that, I turned off my comments, so it would be one less thing for me to respond to.

        While the past couple of days have been relaxing, I do miss it a bit, and I will still be reading a few blogs now and then and offering my comments…

      • Jennie says:

        Thanks for getting back to me, Jim. Bloggers like you are friends, and I don’t want you to just ‘go away’. Okay…that sounds like my preschool class, but you know what I mean.

        I can’t imagine your crunch at the end of the school year. R&R is definitely a good thing. So, you hit Cal Ripken’s streak (yahoo), and now perhaps you could post only when something strikes you. Do you like my pun? I’ll be there, for sure.

        Tomorrow morning is my Art Show post. You might enjoy the many photos. Please, no comments are necessary. I just want to make you smile. My very best to you, Jim. Please stay in touch.

      • Jim Borden says:

        thank you for your kind words, Jennie. My wife and I will continue to follow your posts!

        and I did like your pun… 🙂

      • Jennie says:

        You are most welcome, Jim. I’m glad you liked my pun. And thank you! I know you will post in the future from time to time, and I will be there!

        Hubby’s Philly clan arrive on Friday. We will be happy and busy. No one understands that teachers can’t just ‘take a day off’ on short notice. Sigh!

  27. Great moments in teaching. I like the way you describe how the children engage in the learning process. This was such a great read. Everyone is learning from everyone.

  28. Now they are knowing how to use a map. You should tag them with RFID, Jennie! Lol xx Michael

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