Teaching Cardinal Directions to Children Who are Blind

By Samantha Kelley

There is no doubt that cardinal directions are an important tool for traveling as a person with blindness or low vision, but most people struggle with determining which direction they are facing. This includes parents who want to help teach their children cardinal directions but feel a bit lost themselves.

The following techniques will help you familiarize yourself with cardinal directions, enabling you to help your child learn this important concept of orientation and mobility (O&M). Please note, as you introduce these techniques, it will be helpful to discuss cardinal directions and learning techniques with your child’s orientation and mobility specialist. They can offer tips tailored to your child and your specific region. Together you can determine the best techniques for your child.

Step 1: Memorizing the Directions in Relation to Each Other

a compass with the needle pointing almost directly north

Never Eat Soggy Waffles” is one of the many mnemonics used to help children learn the order of directions. After your child has the order of the cardinal directions memorized, you can help them determine the other directions when given one.

Step 2: Which Direction Am I Heading?

The next advanced skill in mastering cardinal directions is figuring out which direction you are facing.

A few techniques are taught by orientation and mobility specialists to assist students in orienting themselves. Students can use cell phone apps to determine the cardinal direction they are facing. These include talking compasses, braille compasses, and accessible GPSs that can be purchased through specialty stores online.

Step 3: Using the Sun

Using the sun to determine cardinal directions is an advanced skill because of many variables. The use of the sun to determine directions is complicated by the time of the year, day, and weather. The sun rises in the east each morning and sets in the west each evening. If you need to head west in the morning, the sun should be against your back. In the late afternoon, the sun should shine on your face if you are heading west. There is merit in introducing this concept to your child. It would be helpful to start by teaching your child that our relation to the sun changes throughout the day. Then, use the sun to determine the direction in natural opportunities, such as in the morning on the route to the bus stop. We can break everything down into small segments to meet your child’s needs.

In South Florida, the Everglades are to the west, and the beach is to the east. In other parts of the world, the mountains are useful in determining directions. These natural features can provide points of reference for directions.

Step 4: Asking for Help

Soliciting assistance from others can be a useful tool when determining direction, but many well-meaning passersby struggle with cardinal directions. It can be simpler to inquire if you are heading towards the beach or another popular local destination.