Beyond the five senses: Direction

There are many more senses to explore, such as the sense of direction.

In elementary school, you were probably taught about five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. In reality, we can observe many other things beyond those five senses. Using all of our senses allows us to better understand the world around us and use those observations to make scientific predictions. Jimmy Buffet once said, “The best navigators are not quite sure where they’re going until they get there… and then they’re still not sure.”

Sense of direction

Some individuals, without any help, can always seem to get to their destination. Others call themselves “directionally challenged.” Even without the sense of sight, we can sometimes know where we are going.

Here are some fun activities to try to test your sense of direction:

  1. Pair children up as partners. Blindfold one member of each pair and move around the room. Then ask the children to guess where they are. Remove the blindfolds and see how well they did. Repeat the exercise, asking them to pay special attention to where they think they are.
  2. Go outside into an open field and place a marker, such as a flag or blanket, in a location. Blindfold the children and ask them to move to the marker and remove their blindfolds when they think they have reached it.
  3. Have children place several chairs around the room and ask them to move to each chair in order while blindfolded.
  4. Take a field trip to a building the children are unfamiliar with. While outside the building, point out the four cardinal directions. While they are inside, ask them which direction is north, south, east and west.
  5. In an unfamiliar building, go to a spot within the building. Then ask the children to find their way to the front door. How do they know which way to go? Repeat the exercise in another location, but let the children know they will have to find the way back out. Will they do better? What will they do differently?
  6. On a car trip, ask the children which direction to turn next. How do they know?
  7. Some individuals use a “landmark-based” sense of direction, where they know which way to turn based on familiar things they see. Others use a “map-based” approach, where they imagine looking down on an area from above. Some use a combination. Ask children how they find their way around their home and their community.

Enjoy these experiments and observations about the sense of direction and see if you can improve your own.

Michigan State University Extension encourages families, daycares, school activities, 4-H clubs or any group working with young children to conduct these experiments. The focus of these lessons aren’t to simply impart knowledge, but to facilitate the joy of discovery and the exploration of the world around us. This is not designed to “give youth the answers,” but to empower them to ask questions and figure things out on their own. When a young person asks a question, resist the urge to answer it, and instead ask, “What do you think?”

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