Be it a voyage on a steam liner, a camel caravan through the desert or a summer road trip in a minivan, there is one question passengers have been asking for as long as they’ve been along for the ride: Are we there yet?

But getting from here to there wasn’t always easy as it is today. In a time before GPS and Google maps, knowing the cardinal directions was critical to finding the way.

Prior to the invention of the compass, people relied on nature to point them in the right direction. Many of these natural methods of identifying direction are still reliable today.

The sun, for example, helps us identify east and west. Each day the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

If you are facing sunrise, you know that is east. If you raise your arms while you are facing east, your left arm will always point to the north, and your right arm will always point to the south. By letting the sun be your guide, you have just become a human compass!

Long ago, pirates spent their days sailing the seas. With nowhere to stop and ask for directions in the middle of the ocean, pirates became master navigators with the help of the magnetic compass.


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  1. What a great Wonder of the Day!

    If you or your children are intrigued by navigation, treasure hunts, or just love to get outdoors, Geocaching may be a hobby for you. Did you realize that there might be “treasure” hidden all around you?

    Visit and plug in your zip code in the search box to see what hidden treasures there may be in your neighborhood.

    To learn more about Geocaching and how you and your children can have an amazing time together hunting for “treasure,” check out these YouTube videos:

    And don’t forget: Geocaching can be a tremendous educational experience, as you learn more about navigation, explore the outdoors, and then return home to write about your adventures in your on-line log.

    • Duane, thanks for sharing a lot great information about Geocaching. I might have to take your tips and treasure hunt today in Wonderopolis.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your great idea for a Wonder, Claire T! We’re so excited when our Wonder Friends suggest SUPER ideas for Wonders! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Why didn’t pirates get lost when sailing the seas?
  • How can you tell which direction you’re heading if you don’t have a compass?
  • How do you use a magnetic compass?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

To try your hand as a pirate, you don’t need to set sail on the seven seas, simply head out into your own backyard! A fun way to help children practice using a compass is with a backyard treasure hunt.

Hide a secret treasure outdoors and suddenly your yard is transformed into Treasure Island. Provide treasure hunters with a map of the “island,” a compass and a set of written directions.

Pirates must rely on the compass as a guide as they take three paces north, one large hop to the east, two skips south and another leap to the east, navigating their way toward the hidden bounty.

Don’t forget… X marrrrrks the spot!


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Wonder What’s Next?

Pirates sailed the seven seas in search of gold. Tomorrow, we’ll crack a shell and discover a gold treasure (or two) of our own. See you then!

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