DIY Ancient Compass science for kids

DIY Ancient Compass Science for Kids

Hey kids do you want to build a compass? A compass if one of the worlds oldest inventions that we still use today. Before there were GPS to tell you where to do, people used maps and compasses.

 It is believed they were invented by the Chinese scientists in the 11th century and were made of lodestone.  Lodestone is a naturally magnetized iron.  Chinese scientists found out that when the lodestone turned freely is would always point in the same direction. Check out how to build a DIY ancient compass for kids below.

What is a compass?

A compass is a tool that is used to find direction. There are four main points of direction on a compass. They are North, South, East and West. These are also called cardinal points. The image on the North, South, East and West is sometimes called a compass rose.

Compass Rose

How does a compass work?

A compass works by magnets. Did you know that the plant earth is large magnet? It’s true The earth’s core is made of molten iron, which create a large magnetic field as the earth spins on it axis. So, really the earth spins because it’s a large magnet. It has a north magnetic pole and a south magnetic pole.

The needle of a compass is magnetized and spins freely. As it spins it detects the earth’s north magnetic pole, therefore always pointing North.

How does a compass help with direction?

Since the needle of a compass is always pointing north, you can look at the compass rose to determine which way the other directions are.

DIY Compass

Below you will learn how to build your own ancient compass. This is a fun and easy experiment to do with elementary and middle school children. Keep reading to find out how to build your own compass.

Who used a compass?

Before we learn how to make a compass lets discussed who used a compass. Explorers, sailors, travelers all used compasses to know which directions to go.

DIY compass materials


  • A strong magnet
  • 1 Needle
  • Thread
  • Safety Pin

Step 1: In this step you will magnetize the needle.  Magnetizing the needle means making it have the properties of a magnet. In order to do this you will leave one end of the needle on top of the magnet for 24 hours.

After 24 hours test the needle to see if it is magnetized. To do this use the magnetized end of the needle to try to pick up a safety pin. If the needle is not magnetized leave it on top of the magnet for another couple of hours.

 The stronger magnet the faster it will work.

Step 2: Cut about 10 inches of thread.

Step 3: Thread to the middle of the needle so that both sides have an equal amount

Step 4: Walk outside and hold the needle by the thread so it hangs arms length and turn slowly in a circle

You should notice that the magnetized end of the needle points in the same direction (North) no matter which way you turn.


Why does this happen?

A compass works by detecting the Earth’s magnetic field. All magnetic fields have two main poles.  The lines of magnetic force from inside the earth run closely along the lines of the North and South Poles.

When you magnetized the needle it reacted with the Earth’s magnetic fields.  

Since opposites attract the Southern Pole of the needle is attracted to the Earth’s magnetic North Pole.  This is why a compass always points North.