The Early Years
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).
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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.