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Discussion: School Orienteering

in: Orienteering; General

Jan 10, 2024 1:17 PM # 
I've been talking with people who deliver orienteering education to kids inside and outside of schools. Feel free to add your own summaries of programs here!

Table of contents within this thread:

On Dec 12 2023 I talked with Rorry Harding of Orienteering Ottawa in Canada.

Rorry is a volunteer with the club. He became the coordinator for school programs in 2018. Initially this was a low priority for the club; last year it became part of the club strategy. They started with a few dozen participants, and the program has grown to serve 8000 students from over 25 schools in 2023. They haven't done any formal promotion.

A typical school program is a Score-O, with students in groups of 2-3. With younger kids he'll play games on the schoolyard. He uses electronic timing. 72 schoolyards in Ottawa have been mapped by the club.

His approach is to minimize instruction, letting the kids learn by doing, in a safe setting. He wants teachers to run the programming themselves, and to that end they provide resources including maps, course maps, videos, slide decks, activity instructions. He does workshops for teachers. Recently he hosted an online professional development day; over 70 teachers signed up!

The club has held inter-school meets - a true orienteering competition series. However, they were finding that too many schools would show up bringing students with no orienteering experience, which wasn't fair to the kids as they weren't set up to succeed. Now they have an Orienteering Day in the spring. Students are bused to the park. 5 coaches run a half-hour clinic followed by a practice course, setting them up for success in the competition held another day.

He has used MapRun at some schools.

Their pricing model is to charge large school districts a fixed amount per year for access to maps and other resources. Workshops are included. Program delivery time is charged by the hour on top of that. Rorry is provided an honorarium for time at schools but volunteers his time to run the program, interface with schools, teachers and school boards, develop resources, etc. The honorarium covers about half his time. Schools can purchase equipment from the O Store, which is run by some club members.

Rorry shared with me the instructional materials that he provides to the teachers, and I'm looking forward to reviewing and learning from them.
Jan 10, 2024 1:22 PM # 
Thanks for posting this, Barb. In my former Orienteering Ontario role, I had a long phone conversation with Rorry about this a year ago and was blown away - just as you have impressed me with all your Navigation Games work!
Jan 11, 2024 1:39 PM # 
Dec 12, 2023 conversation with Dorothy Penner of Kids Run Wild (Edmonton):

Dorothy Penner, a Schools Program Instructor & Coach at Overlanders Orienteering Club in Edmonton, runs the "Kids Run Wild" program. She is a full-time employee of the orienteering club, and they also have a part-time employee. There are also 5 regular volunteers.

Over 300 schoolyards in Edmonton have been mapped, with ongoing efforts to keep them up to date. Districts outside of Edmonton are interested in the program, but the club lacks the capacity to provide programs for them right now.

The program started in 2002 when the Alberta Orienteering Executive Director was in Edmonton and got a grant to implement school programs. The ED wrote the PE curriculum with input from the main instructor for PE at the University of Alberta as well as PE teachers. For the first 2 years, programming was free in the pilot schools. Programs are still inexpensive compared to most field trips. Schools pay $150 for a 90-minute session, or more if there are bigger groups.

The youth program (not in schools) primarily involves participants aged 5-17, with a focus on encouraging whole families to participate. Participants under 9 require adult or older child supervision to create a holistic environment.

The school programs served 8000 students this year. When we spoke (in December!), she was in her car waiting for students to arrive for a program.

Orienteering is included as part of the junior high cross country school race series. The public school district (“board”) has included orienteering in XC for 12 years. There is one race a week; orienteering is race #2. Format: 30-control Score-O using a “pretty decent but boring” park space. Teams of 2; one punch card; 2 maps; ___ minutes. The orienteering race is included in the official XC rankings, along with results in the regular XC race. 2 years ago, orienteering was included into the XC program for the Edmonton Catholic school district (board) as well.

Dorothy prefers to use a schoolyard for elementary grades; some teachers want to take their kids to the park, and she strongly encourages having at least one session in the schoolyard first.
Activities: Elementary school programs start with Score-O or Scatter-O, incorporating pictures or cards for younger children. They gradually progress to more advanced orienteering depending on age.

Parent involvement is encouraged, but you have to manage them because they tend to chit chat and not supervise. It can work to station parents in pairs at different locations.

They use electronic timing for most programs. With the younger kids (K-3), they use pin punch, in order to have the visual acknowledgment.

Compasses are introduced only for high school students. However, a lot of park spaces in Edmonton are built on old city dumps, and there is weird stuff in the ground that can affect the compass. She teaches them to use the boundary of the park space to orient the map.

She uses incremental explanation: keep instructions to a minimum for each activity.
Jan 11, 2024 5:11 PM # 
I've edited the post on Rorry Harding to make corrections to the pricing model.

I also received updates from Rorry --

For the $2000 annual fee, the school districts get:
  • Open access to our library of maps
  • Access to all the teacher resources posted in the shared folders
  • Free clinics for teachers, virtual or on-site
  • Assistance with setting up any teacher-led activity
  • Providing course designs or helping teachers with course design
  • Setting up MapRun courses at their school/park
  • Access to the club developed MapRun courses
  • Presentations, on-line or on-site activities at PD days
  • Support with setting up special programs such as navigation for special high school programs directed at tourism, security, etc
  • Map development, where practical
  • Free entry to Orienteering Day(s)

And here are links to videos:
Jan 12, 2024 1:41 PM # 
On Jan 6 2024 I spoke with PE teacher Ofir Gil about his orienteering teaching in Israel and at the Hebrew Public school in Staten Island (his current job).

In Israel, he taught orienteering in PE to students in 5th through 9th grade. Location: school grounds and a small wooded area next to the school; he made the map himself. He didn't have maps or space to teach advanced orienteering to older grades. Exercises included star, line, drawing a map, butterfly exercises, 3 controls/map, Score-O, etc. I liked his pair exercise where each map shows 2 of the controls. You go to the first control, grab the marker, move it to the 2nd control then run back and tag off to your partner who does the next map.

Israel held 5 competitions a year in a school league; a total of 50 schools participated.

In the US, he's teaching orienteering to grade K-2 students for the first time. He starts with basic exercises. He shows them a teddy bear, holding it in different orientations to start teaching map orientation. He has several activities in the gym, working up to being able to navigate with a map of the gym. In one, the map has a yellow line on it; pairs of students walk their yellow line and place a sticker where they find each animal picture. Field day activities included a memory card game with orienteering symbols.

He's interested in bringing orienteering to the community where the school is, including via after-school programs to extend exposure to orienteering. He was looking for ideas for funding for an electronic timing kit.

I'd like to find research that supports the value of orienteering education; our funders and educators want to see evidence-based curricula. He found some good research when doing his master's thesis and will share that with me.
Jan 12, 2024 10:05 PM # 
Pink Socks:
Thank you for posting all of this! As someone with an orienteer in kindergarten, and who has a small team of early-elementary school kids coming to meets, this is all really useful!
Jan 13, 2024 5:57 AM # 
AdventureGirl! may know of some evidence on the value of orienteering for the developing brains of young people, even though her research has focused on orienteering and the prevention of cognitive decline.
Jan 18, 2024 7:23 PM # 
Henning Bratland Carlsen, the project manager of Norway's School Orienteering program, presented at the IOF webinar in November.

In Norway, orienteering is included in both primary and secondary school curricula. However, the quality of instruction varied, and teachers need skill and equipment.

The Norwegian school orienteering project’s goals were to make resources available to educators to enable orienteering in schools. It was started around 4 years ago. It was funded for 3-6 years with EUR 400,000 from foundations and EUR 500,000 sponsorship from a bank. With this money, they created an online map and activity database, and they provide grants for clubs. Clubs can use the grants to make/update maps, create courses, get equipment and train new map-makers. There are also grants for “green walks”, which is a recreational orienteering format.

The website was designed to have simple functionality:

  1. Find your map: 1,260 maps + courses created by 150 clubs. 20% of all schools in Norway have a map in this database.
  2. Create courses: The site has a simple drawing tool to create courses on each map. Teachers don’t need to use Purple Pen or OCAD. The courses can be stored privately or publicly.
  3. Get activity tips: There are 80 activities in the database, with an emphasis on learning through play

Video about the project: Other video resources are available at

The project has been successful; not only are there over 1000 maps and 1650 registered users, but uptake is still increasing, with many new users in the last few months.

Volunteers do much of the work. A team of 9 people from local clubs provides teacher training with 35 courses offered. Many young people aged 14-26 draw maps as a summer / holiday job. They have standards for map drawing including 10 required design elements for a common look and feel (e.g. North arrow, legend, scale), but the map does not have to be at competition level. The responsibility to make and update maps lies with the clubs, who work out with their local schools which maps to make. A stipend of EUR 100 is given to some volunteers.

The best age to teach maps is around 4th grade (8-9 years old); by then they’ve learned how to read (non-orienteering) maps. However, it is possible to use maps with younger ages, even 5 years old, if the maps are simple.

More than 10,000 students participated in World Orienteering Week in 2023 in Norway.

Lessons learned - what works:

  • Educate map-makers, especially young people
  • Provide easily accessible resources for educators
  • Use maps for fun, playful activities

Fourth grade is a good age to bring orienteering into schools
Jan 19, 2024 11:42 AM # 
Another speaker at the November School Orienteering webinar was Alena Pickova from the Czech Orienteering Federation.

From 2018 to 2021, Czech orienteering carried out a project supported by the EU and the Czech Ministry of Education. Check it out at, the portal for educators.

In Czechia, orienteering is not a mandatory part of the curriculum; each school can decide whether to implement it.

734 schools have maps, and many have permanent controls. When a school asks the orienteering federation for a map, they have a list of young mappers ready to get some mapping experience and earn some pocket money.

They provide 250 activities at the project website. It was more than just orienteering; the areas of emphasis are

  1. Experience your home (& the region where you live)
  2. Digital forest - activities involving technology
  3. Outdoor and survival activities
  4. Orienteering

The programs were officially approved by the Ministry of Education, which made it easy or teachers to add them into their curriculum.

They provide seminars and accreditation for teachers, and equipment that can be borrowed. (The accreditation was new starting in 2023.) There is an ebook. Teachers can print materials for each game from the website

During the development phase, schools could use it for free, but now they need to pay for it.

Every three years there is a different level. With grades 1-3, they look for pictures (including animal orienteering). Grades 4-5 use pictures of superheroes and simple maps. Their mini-orienteering games include math games, word spelling games, maze orienteering, and logic games.

For kids who are ready to work with maps, there is a progression. In the classroom, the first task is to draw a map of the classroom with desks and chairs. Then they move to the gym where they build a course from objects and draw a map. When they move outdoors, they make a map again: the teacher can draw the outline of the buildings and fences; the students fill in other features with their own symbols.

The Czech orienteering federation runs a school orienteering competition. There are competitions at schools first. In April there are city/district rounds, then, in April, regional rounds. The national finial is in June, with the 2 best teams from regional rounds, 500 students ages 12-18.

They are hoping to have a collaboration with the army. In each region, the army already goes to schools and does programs, and orienteering could be a component.

Jan 19, 2024 12:42 PM # 
the Danish Orienteering Federation shared its brand-new 2023 school initiative at the November 2023 IOF webinar. They ran this program initially with 3 clubs and partner schools.

I loved this presentation because they were clear about their goals, measured how well they achieved those goals, and reported lessons learned.


  1. Recruit new members, including parents. Result: one club got one kid and parent to come to club events; that family brought additional members later.
  2. Make the club visible in the local area. Result: this was done, via Facebook, letters to parents sent through the school, and flyers, etc.
  3. Inspire teachers to teach orienteering. This was partially successful. One school asked if they could borrow materials in the future.
  4. Reach children the club otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity to reach. They did achieve that goal.

The national federation created this program, wrote a manual for it, and recruited three local clubs to participate in the first year. There were typically about four lessons, starting on a school map and moving to a sprint map in the local area. The students were different ages: one club worked with kids 6-8 years old; another with kids in 5th and 6th grade.

A mix of some elements of their approach and lessons learned:

  • Clubs must do the preparatory work.
  • Have good advance contact and communication with the headmaster and teachers
  • Plan the process and focus on that plan.
  • Make what the kids are learning visible to the students, teachers and parents
  • Use parent volunteers
  • Have a written agreement with the school laying everything out, to avoid misunderstandings
  • Limit the number of students you work with at one time
  • It's fine to re-use the same exercises
  • Need more focus on the bridge to the club activities afterward
  • Consider working with younger children; older kids have already chosen other sports
  • Reconsider the goal of recruitment - perhaps awareness of the sport should be the initial goal

More detailed notes are available here.
Jan 19, 2024 12:59 PM # 
Ronaldo presented at the November 2023 IOF webinar on school orienteering. He ias a member of the IOF Global Development Council.
+55 21 979207048

Slide deck.

Ronaldo reported on recent efforts to bring orienteering to schools. Brazil is a large country, and they’ve started in the Rio de Janeiro area. The project is designed and carried out by a group of orienteers and educators including Professors Jose Maria Silva and Diego Viana Gomes at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).

Goals of the group:
Keep orienteering present in schools
Build a channel of communication and support between institutions
Empower teachers
Produce school maps

To teach map reading, Ronaldo advocates a progression of activities starting which very simple maps such as the grid maps from Tri-O in the UK. At school, start with maps fo the classroom and school interior; build maps with equipment in the gym, and work up to real orienteering maps of the school grounds or nearby park.

Future projects include:

  • Developing student games in Rio de Janeiro
  • Make projects 100% sustainable - I think that means having teachers and schools take on responsibility for implementing orienteering long-term.
Jan 19, 2024 10:06 PM # 
> Recruit new members, including parents.
> Result: one club (out of three) got one kid and parent to come to club events
> that family brought additional members later
From my perspective that has always been the goal. After quite a few years of some intensive school aged orienteering work (a Saturday sports program called Space Racing, an annual schools championship and an orienteering program at a local private school), my recent review of membership and particularly of voluntary contributions suggests that a decade later the long term return has been very small. This may be because we are a regional club and we experience an education-based youth migration to the metropolis. We have to accept this latter reality. So my feeling is that the return is very small given the effort involved. Given the demographic transition in out volunteer population, I don't see the investment of limited volunteer resources as providing a return for the club. We are still looking for the alternative successful recruitment strategy, with a new idea in the works.
Jan 19, 2024 10:38 PM # 
IF that's your goal it's probably not worthwhile to invest in getting school programming off the ground.

But there are lots of other valid reasons for offering school programming.
Jan 19, 2024 11:26 PM # 
In the context of a club reducing its event program due to volunteer labour shortages, those would have to be pretty compelling reasons for a club to get involved.
Jan 20, 2024 4:08 PM # 
I get the frustration in trying to do things with kids and schools. Recruitment is hard. It takes multiple exposures and a bread crumb path of opportunities that meet the interests and constraints of the potential club member. It helps to hear about what has worked and what hasn't worked in other places.

I don't think of school programs as an efficient method for short-term recruitment of club members. But I do think school programs are an effective method for long-term development of the sport. It's a long game.

In the US, the way we hope to do well at international competitions has been to nurture the very small number of athletes willing to train and compete. Frankly, I no longer care much about how the US team does at WOC. I mean, I definitely follow along and root for our athletes, but I know that it doesn't make sense to expect consistently strong results without a much broader base of athletes and a thriving, vibrant orienteering scene throughout the country.

I'm sure there are many ways to grow orienteering, and directly recruiting more people into local clubs is part of it. My different/complementary approach is to infect schools throughout the country with orienteering, via enabling and inspiring teachers. By getting teachers to teach orienteering, we're not relying on club volunteers to do all the program delivery. By teaching in schools, we're reaching every kid, not just the few whose parents sign them up for some weird afterschool or weekend class. I believe that raising awareness in this way over years and by reaching millions of kids will eventually make it easier to recruit recreational and competitive orienteers into clubs and onto national teams.

Recruiting new members into a club is not the club's only mission. Many clubs' missions include promoting the sport, raising awareness, and educating.

For me, the driving force behind my work in schools is the clear benefit to children of this activity. We work with all sorts of kids. Some of them have very little exposure to green spaces. Some of them struggle with executive function and spatial awareness. Some of them learn differently than other kids. Just about all of them have fun, are engaged, and learn through orienteering activities.

I think there are ways to make it easy for clubs to engage with schools, without using up the volunteer work force, and even engaging and motivating volunteers. In learning about what's been tried and what has and hasn't worked, I'm hoping that we can develop some successful strategies.
Jan 20, 2024 4:15 PM # 
>>there are lots of other valid reasons for offering school programming.

School/youth orienteering can be an end in itself and the results may not be obvious. Maybe a child will enjoy maps and end up working in GIS. Or maybe they will develop confidence and independence that they will use some day to climb a mountain or leave a toxic relationship.

Our club's orienteering event tomorrow is reaping the rewards of a school program years ago. After many years of being prohibited from using a beautiful piece of protected land, we were able to get permission for winter orienteering only. Why? Because a young man who learned orienteering in high school but did not continue in the sport (a "failure") grew up, got a degree and took a job where he is now responsible for environmental protection of properties owned by a government agency. When we approached him, he didn't say "no" at a time when many landowners have started refusing off-trail events. He had positive memories of orienteering and knew exactly what it was. We worked with him to get access and we are excited about tomorrow! He plans to come to a future event with his young child.
Jan 20, 2024 4:19 PM # 
@TheInvisibleLog Why didn't your efforts with kids lead to more new club members? Can you think of anything that could have been done differently to convert more of those families into members? What did you learn, other than just that those approaches "didn't work" for recruitment? Were there other benefits/successes out of the programs?
Jan 20, 2024 9:18 PM # 
The Swiss school orienteering project (sCOOL) reported that it takes 4-6 years of programming at schools before you see kids joining a club.
Jan 20, 2024 9:55 PM # 
There is one thing one has to keep in mind when doing school orienteering and evaluating the success: was school orienteering and skill teaching to students, any and all, the primary goal of starting a program, or was school orienteering a program one started as a means/tool envisioned for growing clubs - membership, volunteer base, etc.
Which means that the definition of success would be quite different, the first one being success with added benefits (as success would be every kid one saw engaging, every expression when "it clicked"), while the latter is bound to lead to disappointment when orienteering is just one of many other athletic school offerings.
Jan 21, 2024 4:34 AM # 
Mostly agree with Log. Here in Perth (a city of 2 million) we ran a large sponsored schools program for 10+ years, reaching thousands of students, with very few long-term memberships resulting. In those that did, it was always due to a teacher taking up orienteering as their own primary sport and therefore being especially keen to get kids involved.
Jan 21, 2024 10:29 AM # 
I mentioned one of the issues in passing - out-migration to education and employment in a larger city. It all looked rosy for five or more years. Then a number of trends became evident - the out-migration mentioned above, settling down with partners without an interest in orienteering, parents who lose interest once their children have reached adulthood. The only successful recruitment strategy seems to be find a friend who might be interested. That one is small steps.
Yes, schools orienteering might be a long game, but with a club experiencing a demographic transition and facing an uncertain future, short games are the only game.
What might save us is another interesting migration trend - retirement migration to be closer to good orienteering. Having spent a good part of my career researching amenity migration to regions, this is somewhat an irony.
My final observation is that there seems to be generational culture difference here as well.
Jan 22, 2024 3:30 AM # 
I'll note that in the case of what Barb has been doing, it's not the local club that is working to get orienteering in schools, it's a separate organization (Navigation Games), and at least as far as I can tell, there has been no drain on the local club resources. And there has been benefit to the club in terms of new people who came in through the schools program. But this is a huge effort of one person's personal passion.
Jan 22, 2024 5:23 AM # 
Gordhun - we are not naive to these issues. After all, I spent a fair part of my career doing a form of market research. Being an empiricist, I have been crunching some numbers covering orienteering entry and exit over past 20 years. Demographics trumps marketing in the long run. There are quite a few mirages out there. One of them is selling the advantage of orienteering for children to parents. It generally creates a short term parental involvement that vanishes when the child moves on. In the end you need to attract a relatively small number of people who have an intrinsic attraction to the activity of orienteering. This is the sort of parent who wants to go orienteering, giving their offspring little choice in the matter. We are investing our resources into a very different strategy this year. We plan to publish a book of forest walks around our town. A similar book for the nearby sister town is into its third print run in a few years, so we know the market is active. Unlike the earlier publication, all the walks in our book will be supported by orienteering maps. [We are lucky to have have some great terrain and great maps within 10 minutes drive of the centre of town] The walks will be ordered according to increasing navigational demands. There will be a section on navigation, one on how the maps are made, and one on how to do similar walks around town every Saturday afternoon (ie come orienteering). The hope is we will grab the attention of local people with an intrinsic interest in maps, exercise and the local forest. There is no guarantee this will work, but at least it hasn't been found to be a failure yet, unlike most of the other strategies tried over the past 20 years.
Jan 22, 2024 6:29 PM # 
Pink Socks:
There are a lot of factors here, obviously.

Anecdotally, here in Seattle, we don't really have in-school programs, but we do have a school league that has been around for 40 years, and in my opinion, it's the primary reason why CascadeOC is really the only significant club remaining in the state (Nisqually OC, Chuckanut OC, Sammamish OC, Ellensburg OC, Sacajawea OC are all long gone, and the total of EWOC's annual participation is less than half of one of Cascade's Winter League events).

Yes, an overwhelming majority of the school kids don't ever come back, but it seems like we have just enough parents sticking with it, plus the kids who do come back post-college to keep the club slowly growing, and to keep the club's board relatively young (at least compared to other clubs).

Seattle does have things in its favor: it's a large city that attracts people post-college, and it has an existing school league that has been slowly built over 40 years. But, Seattle also has things that work against it. Most notably is that our local orienteering terrain is terrible (too green, or too steep, or both).

So while a school program may not work for all situations, it has worked out really well for us.
Jan 22, 2024 8:25 PM # 
I think there’s a huge difference between a school league and orienteering as a classroom activity. I would expect the former to have a much better ROI in terms of recruitment into the sport beyond school years.
Jan 23, 2024 2:28 AM # 
I think being an education destination town is a wonderful advantage.
Jan 24, 2024 11:49 AM # 
I'm feeling a little discouraged by this conversation.
Jan 25, 2024 12:22 PM # 
Pauline and I at South Yorkshire Orienteers are doing a webinar for British Orienteering tonight called 'Creating a thriving club for young people' 7pm UK time. We will be talking about our Saturday Series (incorporating the schools league) and Club Night and the goal to attract families not just juniors. Sign up:
recording available afterwards.
Jan 25, 2024 2:05 PM # 
@JennyJ, are their social media posts about this I can share?
Jan 25, 2024 6:41 PM # 
Sorry just seen this, British Orienteering on Facebook are sharing their month of webinars I think.
Jan 25, 2024 6:48 PM # 
Jan 25, 2024 6:49 PM # 
Any chance it's being recorded? I have a work presentation at the same time. :(
Jan 25, 2024 6:51 PM # 
Yes it will be and I will share the link tomorrow hopefully!
Jan 26, 2024 5:51 PM # 
JennyJ: is last night's session but there was a school one too so...all 2024 British Orienteering Development Conference sessions will be uploaded into the YouTube playlist found here:

Jan 26, 2024 6:42 PM # 
Thanks Jenny! Looking forward to watching these.
Jan 26, 2024 7:28 PM # 
Barb, SOGO@School in Calgary (part of SOGO Adventure Running) does lots of school programming. We are just updating our schools page on our website (as we have a virtual booth at our upcoming teacher's convention), so I'll aim to remember to post here in about 10 days when we have our Schools web page updated. It'll have our pricing, program offerings, etc.
Feb 6, 2024 9:16 PM # 
I'd like you all to join me for the February O Forum on Thursday evening at 8:30pm eastern time. Topic: school orienteering. I'm having trouble finding an announcement about it, so stay tuned.
Feb 6, 2024 11:08 PM # 
It's in the January e-Newsletter - so I'm not sure this link will work for everyone
@barb - you may want to start a new thread or even put it under "events"?
Feb 6, 2024 11:45 PM # 
That mailchimp address should be fine - the forum is held monthly on Google Meet at

Tune in on Thursday, February 8th at 8:30pm EST. The forum will also be recorded and posted to the OUSA YouTube channel after the event.
Feb 10, 2024 7:19 PM # 
Thursday's Forum has now been posted to YouTube if you missed it.

Feb 13, 2024 4:49 PM # 
Both Dorothy from Edmonton and Rorry from Ottawa attended and talked about their programs some in the Q&A.
Feb 13, 2024 7:58 PM # 
Awesome - thanks for sharing!

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