NORTH HAMPTON – Orienteering is a mind and body workout that has been called “the thinking sport” and “cunning running.” It involves navigation through woods and fields, and the only equipment needed is a map and compass.

A spirit of adventure helps, too, which 11- and 12-year-olds have in abundant supply.

With geography and map-reading skills as part of the curriculum for sixth-graders, North Hampton School teachers Wendy Crowley, Noreen Forbes and Brenda Tharp decided to engage students in a real-life application of the knowledge.

With the help of orienteering instructor and nationally ranked competitor Deb Humiston, kids and teachers put their skills to the test on a short orienteering course through the Fort Rock forest in Exeter last Thursday.

Using a detailed, five-color map made specifically for the sport, students searched for a series of checkpoints in the woods, called “controls”

The controls were marked on the maps with circles and in the woods with orange-and-white three-sided flags. To show they had found the controls, students punched their \\\”control cards\\\” with stapler-like punches hanging from the flags, each with a different pattern.

To navigate to each control, students first oriented their maps with the help of their compasses. They also matched symbols on their maps with nearby landscape features such as stonewalls, fields, trails, hills and streams to figure out where they were and where they wanted to go.

The object was to visit each of the seven controls in order and return safely to the start/finish area in a grassy clearing not far from the Newfields Road entrance. Parent volunteers stationed at several trail junctions helped keep them on track.

Half the students ran in one direction around the course and half in the other, with staggered start times every one minute. As each group of partners finished, running up the last hill or down a narrow rocky trail, they were cheered on by the other competitors, their classmates.

When everyone had completed the course, they had a picnic lunch.

Munching her sandwich, Kinsey Devenport reflected on the event.

“We got lost going to No. 1,” she said. “But then we got the hang of it, and it was fun.”

She and her partner Christopher Diharce finished the 1.75 kilometer course in 19 minutes, 54 seconds.

Teacher Noreen Forbes was impressed.

“I saw how much the kids loved it – being outside, using their energy and using skills they learned in the classroom,” she said. “They were really into it.”

The Fort Rock course was set by Humiston, a New Hampshire orienteering expert who teaches the sport to school kids, corporate execs, sales teams and other groups.

In a three-part introduction to orienteering, Humiston uses a \\\”micro to macro\\\” approach that she learned in Sweden where she has competed. Orienteering is a required part of Swedish curriculum kindergarten through 12th grade.

Humiston said she thinks that when it comes to understanding and using maps, Americans could learn something from the Swedes. In a National Geographic-sponsored survey of students’ geographic awareness and map skills, Swedish students ranked first while U.S. students finished last.

Humiston said in this country, orienteering has sometimes been taught as an abstract mathematical skill, simply land navigation by compass bearings on U.S. Geological Survey maps covering large areas.

Only five-color large-scale orienteering maps have the fine detail necessary to get people to relate to the landscape, said Humiston. Orienteers use compass bearings to navigate, too, but even more important is “map contact” or knowing where you are at all times by “reading” man-made, natural and topographic features.

In her first lesson in late October, Humiston introduced spatial awareness through a simple map game on the “micro” level in the classroom. In the second lesson in early November, Humiston took students outside for a “score” event in which students found 12 controls in any order.

The third lesson was a real orienteering course she set in the Fort Rock woods. “I’m trying to get them to pull things together” she said.

Humiston is enthusiastic about orienteering.

“It’s one of the few sports that you’re allowed to make decisions that aren’t right or wrong; they’re right for you,” she says, referring to the process of selecting a route between controls.

“Also, the feeling of competition, that’s wonderful. It makes you want to go.”

Humiston said she would like to make a color map of the fields and woods behind North Hampton School. With a little training, teachers in any grade could use the map for orienteering and other games that can integrate map use into the curriculum, she said.

Humiston’s visits were paid for with money from the school field trip fund and a grant from PAL, People Active in Learning, the school’s PTO.

For more information, visit Humiston’s Web site at

For general information about orienteering, visit the United States Orienteering Federation’s Web site at