With International Talk Like a Pirate Day just around the corner (September 19th), we decided to bring a bit of pirate fun to our homeschool this year.
One question Monkey wanted to know was, how did pirates navigate? How did the terrors of the sea know where to go to find other ships to plunder and pillage?
Of, course, were were able to answer that question with navigational science and STEM activities!
How Did Pirates Navigate? A Mini Unit Study
- Map with longitude and latitude lines (we printed off a really old one that looked more “piratey”)
- Compass (if you have one)
- Ruler (this makes it easier to plot lines on the map)
During our search to learn how to read a may and how pirates navigated, we found that pirates used a variety of tools to help them plot their place in the sea. Pirates would have used sea charts, which were primitive maps of the known seas. Pirates also combined the science of early GPS technology by using the North Star to plot their latitude and a compass to plot longitude. Using a combination of a compass, the horizon, and the stars, pirates and other sailors were able to determine fairly accurately where they were (except they didn’t know about magnetic vs true north at the time, which could throw off their charts by several hundred miles, which is why it was so difficult to explore back in the day).
Pirates may have used a variety of seafaring tools to navigate, including:
- Sea charts
- Chip log and sand glass
- Nautical almanacs
- Astrolab (used to measure latitude at sea)
How to Read a Map
For this experiment in learning how did pirates navigate, we learned how to chart specific regions on a map using latitude and longitude.
To explain latitude and longitude, remember that latitude sounds like ladder, and is the lines that look like a ladder horizontally across the map. Longitude measures up and down, much like long electric poles or cell phone towers reach up toward the sky. Latitude is always listed first.
Latitude and longitude are measured in degrees, minutes, and seconds (minutes and second because each degree is divided into 60 parts, then 60 even smaller parts). Above the equator and to the right of the prime meridian are considered positive, and below the equator and to the left of the prime meridian are considered negative.
I had Monkey experiment with finding various spots on the map using just the main degrees, because our map was global.
After we did this a few times, we found the degree listing for the National Capitol, just for fun. We used a calculator we found online to calculate the exact coordinates. We also did this experiment to find the coordinates for Texas, so now if we are ever sailing, we can locate our home state.
So, how did pirates navigate? With a little skill and a whole lot of luck.
Our Favorite Pirate Books
More Pirate Fun!
Backyard Pirate Treasure Hunt (Map) – Umbrella Tree Cafe
Make Your Own Pirate Treasure – The Gingerbread House
DIY Pirate Vest & Patch – Play Dough & Popsicles
Toilet paper roll pirates – Just Another Mom
Set Sail with this DIY Pirate Boat – The Resourceful Mama
It’s a Pirate’s Life for Me – Study at Home Mama
Pirates Love Underpants Sensory Bin – Adventures of Adam
Free Pirate Play Dough Mats Numbers 1-10 – Life Over C’s
Pirate Science: Fool’s Gold, Parrots and Shipwrecks! – Share it! Science News
Pirate Colouring Pages – In The Playroom
Pirate Books for Kids of All Ages – Superheroes and Teacups
Treasure Chest Craft – Messy Little Monster
Pirate Sensory Bin – Life with Moore Babies
Pirate Preschool Printable – Living Life and Learning
How to Make Some Great Pirate Flags – Witty Hoots
Perfect Parrot Masks for Pirate Day Fun – Peakle Pie
Pirate Perler Bead Patterns – Brain Power Boy
Going on a Pirate Treasure Hunt – Play & Learn Everyday
Pirate Treasure Math Printables – Kidz Activities
Treasure Alphabet Match – The Kindergarten Connection
Make Your Own Pirate Map – My Little Poppies
Treasure Map Grid Activity – My Little Poppies
Make Your Own Map and Treasure Hunt – My Little Poppies
Create a FLOATING Pirate Ship! – Milk and Cuddles
Pirate Puppet Craft -Sugar Aunts
Hidden Treasure Cupcakes – Emmy’s Mummy
Non Scary Pirate Books and Movies – Edventures with Kids
Gold Nuggets – Kelly’s Classroom
Fizzing Pirate Treasure Adventure – Preschool Powol Packets
More STEM Activities for Kids
Join the Homeschooling 101 group for more hands-on teaching ideas!