What Are Cardinal Directions?

Let me ask you a question. But for that you will have to stand up.

Now while you are standing in one place, can you tell me which direction are you facing?

Now don’t say I’m standing to the right of my bed or to the left side of the television. Left, right, up and down are not directions but positions in comparison with other things around.

The four directions are : North, South, East and West
North and South face each other.
East and West face each other.
West is to the left of north and east is to the right of north.

Now can you re-think and tell me which direction are you facing when you stand up?

You still wouldn’t know. But here is an easy way to find out:

The Sun always rises from the east and sets in the west. So if you know which direction the sun rises in the morning, that is the East. If you stand facing East, exactly opposite East and behind you will be West. Stretch your hands horizontally. Your left hand will face North, and right hand will face south.

Finding cardinal directions using the Sun
Finding cardinal directions using the Sun (at Sunrise), Image Credit: lvquakers.org

Easy Breezy ! ! Wasn’t it ??


Next up, let us try to do a quick fun experiment. You will need to look at the map below. The North direction is already marked in the map.

A problem on Cardinal directions

Suppose your friend asked you to meet at the McDonald’s on the Dearborn Street. Your taxi driver dropped you by mistake at the one on the Washington Street. How would you go to the right one ( you need to go from the McDonald’s, shown inside a red circle in the map, to the one shown inside the green circle ).

Do think about this and fill in the blanks:

You will go _______ on Washington Street. And then make a turn to start going _______ on Dearborn St to reach the right restaurant.

Let us know what is the right answer: Is it (East, then North) or (West, then South) ?

Alright then. Do you know the name of the instrument we use to find the cardinal directions? Well, it is called a compass or a magnetic compass. If you do not have one then try to install a compass App on your parent’s smart phone. An instrument like compass is really useful when you need directions and do not have the time to wait for the next morning for the sun to rise :)

Which leads us to the next question? What would you do when you need directions at a new place at night, and when you do not even have a compass? We bet the stars can help!


Useful Resource:
We suggest parents to also use instructional materials provided by National Geographic to further develop activities around Cardinal Directions.

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