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The Early Years

Global Connections

Science and Children—July/August 2021 (Volume 58, Issue 6)

By Peggy Ashbrook

Early childhood education standards and guidelines often have one or more learning domains that relate to “learning about the world,” including supporting children’s awareness of their personal histories and heritage, a sense of place (neighborhood and larger community), and the physical and natural world around them. The standards begin with infants reacting to nearby sights and sounds and reaching for objects, and continue to age 5 when children notice and talk about similarities and differences among objects, living things, and natural phenomena; show growing awareness of the larger world; and increasingly reflect their thinking and understanding about social connections in drawings.

Learning about the neighborhood, community, and developing an understanding of global communities happens through commonplace events in children’s and adult’s lives, as we shop at a grocery, read in a library, or play with neighbors. Children with family in far-off places—an hour’s drive or a continent away—enlarge their understanding of place through trips to visit family. Hearing and speaking more than one language may support children’s awareness that there are other areas locally or globally where another language is commonly used. Toy animals that represent species children never see near their homes introduce the idea of other places where those animals live. Some are distant in space, in a different biome or at a farm, and others are distant in time (dinosaurs)—and some live in our imaginations (unicorns).

Foods are another window into understanding the world. As we serve food to children, we can talk about where it or the main ingredients were grown, or where it was manufactured. Local grocery stores carry fruits and vegetables grown in faraway places. Surprise your children by serving a food new to them (check for allergies). Explore where familiar foods such as bananas are cultivated through books and maps. Viewing maps is one way to introduce the concept of using a model to show where things are located, or to explain events or phenomena.

Children’s initial ideas about the natural world and the many cultures of people who live on it develop as they gain experiences and have conversations with adults to help them understand more, including developing “comfortable, empathic interaction with people from diverse backgrounds” (Derman-Sparks, Olsen Edwards, and Goins 2020, p. 15).


  • Family stories about where they have lived, and where family members currently live
  • Map of the community around the children’s school
  • Drawing materials
  • Globe
  • Google Earth (optional)

Where We Live


To support children’s developing ideas about modeling, beginning with their neighborhood and broadening to the world, through maps and a globe

Children who travel a particular route to school become familiar with the landmarks, such as stores, familiar homes, or notable buildings, as well as geographic features such as rivers and mountain ridges. The Next Generation Science Standards disciplinary core idea ESS2.B (Maps show where things are located. One can map the shapes and kinds of land and water in any area.) describes what children should understand by the end of second grade, developing over time and building on their prior experiences—from birth.

  1. Ask families to send in short descriptions of the address where they live now, where they have lived, and where other family members currently live. Alternatively, families can send in a location that they would like to visit someday. Share one of your favorite locations and talk with the children about these places to get a sense of their understanding of distance.
  2. Prepare a paper street map of the local community to locate where the children and you work and learn together (the classroom), or use Google Earth or another map app to find the area closely surrounding the classroom—type in an address to see and print an aerial photo of the location. Also print a street map that does not show the vegetation, for clarity.
  3. Take a walking field trip around the school building or block (Ashbrook 2011) and have children point out landmarks and landscape features to later locate on a map or aerial photo.
  4. Beginning with the paper or printed maps, guide children to locate the classroom and nearby homes and also on an aerial photo if available. Ask children to describe if and how the paper printed maps look like the area they saw on the walking field trip or see on their way to school. This will help them understand the limitations of the paper model.
  5. As additional homes, family locations, and places to visit are discussed and added to the map, children will notice that some of those places are too far away to be located on the map.

Introduce the globe as a type of map that represents the entire planet Earth and continue pointing out locations shared by families.

Reading a book about the experiences of astronauts (Gladstone 2018), and other books about maps and families in distant locations will help children understand the globe as a map and a model.

Peggy Ashbrook ( is the author of Science Learning in the Early Years: Activities in PreK–2 and teaches preschool science in Alexandria, Virginia.


Ajmera, M., S. Kinkade, and C. Pon. 2010. Our grandparents: A global album. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.

Ashbrook, P. 2011. The Early Years: A Sense of Place. Science and Children 49 (1): 30–31.

Delacre, L. 2013. How far do you love me? New York: Lee & Low Books.

Derman-Sparks, L., J. Olsen Edwards, and C.M. Goins. 2020. Anti-bias Education for Young Children & Ourselves, 2nd edition. Washington, DC: NAEYC.

Gladstone, J. 2018. Earthrise: Apollo 8 and the photo that changed the world. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Owlkids Books.

Sweeney, J. 2018. Me on the map. New York: Knopf.

Disciplinary Core Ideas Instructional Materials Interdisciplinary Early Childhood

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