We have an easy way for kids to make a compass of their own. This simple magnetic compass craft needs only a few basic household supplies like water, needle, magnet and a small piece of foam or cork. Kids of all ages can make this easy DIY compass at home or in the classroom with this simple hands-on science projects.

Make a Compass - Simple Magnetic Compass for Kids - from above, magnetic compass in water with needle pointing north - Kids Activities Blog
Let’s make our own compass!

How to Make a Compass with a Magnet

It’s easier than you might think to make a compass. All you need are a few simple household items and you can put together a compass that shows due North with surprising accuracy. Through this DIY compass craft, kids can learn about magnets, electric fields and cardinal directions.

Related: Defying Gravity  with Magnets & How To Make A Compass

Making your own compass is not only a fun project, but a great science lesson on the earth’s magnetic field. Kids love magnets and learning about how magnetic forces work. Don’t worry if your kids don’t fully understand what a compass is at the beginning of this project. My kids only knew vaguely what it was thanks to Minecraft and them making one using iron ingots and a crafting table or something {giggle}.

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Supplies Needed to Make a Magnetic Compass

Supplies Needed for DIY compass craft - How to Make a Compass - bowl of water, sewing pin or needle, magnet, small piece of craft foam, cork or paper
This is what you will need to make a compass.
  • bowl of water
  • sewing pin or needle
  • magnet
  • small piece of craft foam, cork, or paper

Directions to Make a Magnetic Compass

Step 1

Cut a small circle from a material that will float in water. We used some craft foam but cork or even a piece of paper will work.  

Step 2

The next step is to turn the sewing needle into a magnet. To do this, stroke the needle across the magnet about thirty to forty times.

Be sure to stroke in one direction only, not back and forth.

Now the needle will be magnetized!

Step 3

Next, place the needle on the circle of craft foam or cork and place it on top of the water.

Step 4

Try to place it in the center of the bowl, keeping it away from the edges. The needle will begin to slowly turn around and eventually the needle will point North and South.

Checking Accuracy of Homemade Compass

Once you finish creating your compass for this science activity, the first step is testing your own magnetic compass. Testing your liquid compasses are easy!

We were so amazed to watch the needle finding North and we checked the accuracy of our DIY compass with a compass app (we used Compass from Tim O’s Studios. It was free to download and very simple to use).

How to Make a Compass at Home - Easy Science from Kids Activities Blog - paper plane flying over compass
How does a compass work?

Why this Compass Works

  • Every magnet has a north and south pole.
  • A compass is small magnet that aligns itself with the north and south poles of the Earth’s magnetic field.
  • As the needle is stroked across the magnet, it becomes magnetized because the electrons within the needle straighten up and align themselves with the magnet.
  • Then the magnetized needle aligns itself with the Earth’s magnetic field, when it is placed on top of the water.

Compass Types

There are 7 different types of compasses and they all are used differently. Depending on what you do, you may need a different navigational tool for each scenario. The 7 different types of compasses are:

  • Magnetic Compasses
  • Base Plate Compass
  • Thumb Compass
  • Solid State Compass
  • Other Magnetic Compasses
  • GPS Compass 
  • Gyro Compass

Some of these are traditional compasses while others use more modern technology like the GPS and GYRO.

But the first 5  use the magnetic field of the earth to work and are great in any survival kit or hiking kit. Which is why learning to read the needle of a compass is so important and a wonderful life skill to know.

Make a Compass {Simple Magnetic Compass for Kids}

How to make a compass with a magnet - Kids Science - Kids Activities Blog

This simple magnetic compass needs only a few basic household supplies like water, needle, magnet and a small piece of foam or cork. Kids Activities Blog loves helping kids learn about the world around them with simple hands-on science projects like this.

Materials

  • bowl of water
  • sewing pin or needle
  • magnet
  • small piece of craft foam, cork, or paper

Instructions

  1. Cut a small circle from a material that will float in water. We used some craft foam but cork or even a piece of paper will work.  
  2. The next step is to turn the sewing needle into a magnet. To do this, stroke the needle across the magnet about thirty to forty times.
  3. Next, place the needle on the circle of craft foam or cork and place it on top of the water.
  4. Try to place it in the center of the bowl, keeping it away from the edges. The needle will begin to slowly turn around and eventually the needle will point North and South.

More Science Fun from Kids Activities Blog & Other Favorite Resources

Your child will be so proud that they were able to make a compass on their own. We’d love to hear how they used their new magnetic compass. Leave us a comment!



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4 Comments

  1. Traveling at night in the woods is not a great idea, so you’ll be doing this in the day time. That said, you can figure out which direction is north by the fact that sun rises on the east and sets on the west. Then all you do is either mark the paper as to which direction the needle is pointing north or just remember which side of the needle is pointing north.