# Understanding Direction Based on the Sun

Caitlin Dempsey

Updated:

This lesson plan introduces the concept of direction to young children by using the location of the Sun in order to understand where east, west, north, and south are located.

A video tutorial on how to figure out direction based on the Sun is available towards the end of this article.

Level: Elementary school students

Time: 30 minutes

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Materials: Paper and pencil

## What is direction?

The way to a place is called direction. Â In order to find a place or to describe where it is, we must know in what direction from us it lies. Â

Direction can be absolute or relative. Absolute direction uses fixed points such as the cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west). Relative direction depends on the orientation of the person or object in question, describing positions in terms of left, right, forward, and backward.

Understanding direction is crucial for navigation, whether it’s for traveling from one place to another, finding your way using a map, or describing the location of an object in space.

North, south, east, and west are known as cardinal directions. Â These cardinal directions can be abbreviated as N, S, E, and W.

## How the Sun Shows Direction

We can use the location of the sun in the sky in order to determine direction. The sun is a reliable natural compass. Each morning, the Sun rises in the East and can be seen across different parts of the sky before setting in the West.

Shadows also offer directional clues: in the morning, shadows will point west because the sun is in the east, and in the afternoon, shadows will point east as the sun moves toward the west.Â

This movement of the Sun across the sky is because the Earth is rotating from West to East. This rotation of the Earth eastward on its axis is called prograde.

### Getting started with finding cardinal directions using the Sun

Stand outside in the morning and observe the sky (always avoid looking directly at the sun to protect your eyes). Notice the position of the sun. In the morning, the sun rises in the east, so its location at this time will be towards the eastern horizon.

As the day progresses, compare the sun’s position in the morning to its location in the late afternoon. In the afternoon, the sun moves towards the west, ultimately setting in the western sky.

Solar noon is when the sun is at its highest point in the sky and is directly overhead.Â

## The Sun Always Rises in the East and Sets in the West

The Sun always rises in the east.

It doesn’t matter if you live in the Northern Hemisphere or the Southern Hemisphere. We see the Sun move across the sky based on the rotation of the Earth. Since both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres rotate in together, the position of the sun is the same in both hemispheres.

While it may seems like the Sun is moving around the Earth, the change in where the Sun is located in the sky is because the Earth is spinning around on its axis.

It takes the Earth about 24 hours to complete one rotation on its axis. At any given point in that period, half of the Earth is facing the sun and is in sunlight. The other half of the Earth is facing away from the sun and is in darkness (night).

The line between day and night on the face of the Earth is called the terminator. The Earth rotates counterclockwise so the Sun will appear in the sky from the east and set in the west.

## How To Use The Sun to Locate North, South, East, and West

In the morning find the general location of the rising sun, stretch out your left arm so that your left hand is pointing towards the sun. Â Your left hand is now pointing east. Important: make sure you never look directly at the sun.

Now, take your right hand and point it towards the west.  You are now facing south and your back is towards the north.

## Exploring North, South, East, and West

Stand outside the front door of your house or school.  What direction is the building facing?

Take a piece of paper and mark the locations of north, south, east, and west on your paper. Now draw the outline of the building with the front of the building in the correct location.

Look around the building.  What is on the north side of the building?  Doors, windows, trees?

Mark those on your paper in the correct spot.

What is on the east side of the building?  Draw those now on the paper in the spot you marked for the east direction.

Do the same for south and west.

## Watch: Use the Sun the Find Direction

This article was originally published on July 7, 2018 and has since been updated.