We have an easy way for kids to make a compass on their own.
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.
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.
Making your own compass is not only a fun project, but a great science lesson on the earth’s magnetic field. Kids love magnets, but they usually don’t understand magnetic forces or how they work.
They may not even 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.
But using a real compass and understanding magnets and electric fields as well as cardinal directions is a must.
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Supplies Needed to Make a Magnetic Compass
Directions to Make a Magnetic Compass
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.
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!
Next, place the needle on the circle of craft foam or cork and place it on top of the water.
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).
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.
What Types Of Compasses Are There?
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.
- bowl of water
- sewing pin or needle
- small piece of craft foam, cork, or paper
- 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.
- 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.
- Next, place the needle on the circle of craft foam or cork and place it on top of the water.
- 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
- Make a Compass Rose
- Learn about a Magnetic Compass
- How to Use a Compass
- Another homemade compass idea
- Check out how to make magnetic mud with this science experiment.
- Spread joy with these fun facts to share.
- Oh so many science activities for kids <–literally 100s!
- Learn and play with these science games for kids.
- Science fair project ideas that kids will love…and so will teachers.
- Make magnetic slime…this is super cool.
- Learn about the earth’s atmosphere with this fun kitchen science project.
- Make a balloon rocket with kids!
- Download & print these world coloring pages as part of a map learning module…or just for fun!
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!