My dream is for my daughter to grow up with a confidence and conscience as a citizen of the world. To that end I have found three things – the “Magical Trio” – to be a great support in this desire. The Magical Trio consists of a globe, a Felt Continent Map, and corresponding Geography Folders – two of which can be made by hand inexpensively (instructions below).
Our family lives in multiple continents, and the ROTH Editors’ vision of “bringing families together through celebration” inspires me — I wanted my daughter to celebrate the various cultures of our family and friends and the world from a young age. With the fall season, I feel inspired to celebrate the diversity and richness of our world with a full measure of gratitude…and I am motivated to find ways that my four-year-old-daughter, Chelyn, can share in this gratitude. As I was designing Chelyn’s play space, I bought a globe ( which will serve our household for decades). Chelyn took an initial interest in the globe; however, I was left desiring a way to engage her and empower her with a developing awareness and appreciation for different cultures.
I admire Chelyn’s school and the way that they make cultural celebrations come alive for the children of all ages. They do a brilliant job of enlisting the international parents as a community to support the various annual celebrations including Italy Day, Germany Day, Franch Day, English Tea Celebration, Asia Celebration, and many more. Each celebration incorporates age-appropriate opportunities for the children to prepare and engage with the selected culture: for example, research projects and drama productions for the elementary students, and — for Italy Day — grape stomping and accordion concerts for younger children. I am delighted by Chelyn’s full dose of geography at school and I wanted a way for us to continue and expand the appreciation for geography and cultures at home.
I taught in a mixed age group classroom for eleven years, and my students (ages 3-6) delighted in the puzzle maps of the continents of the world and the countries in each continent. As a teacher, I saw the value of exposing young children to geography and various cultures at a young age. One of the geography materials that I made, which was available on the shelves for the children to work with, were the Geography Folders — seven color-coded folders containing photos and images of the corresponding continent. These folders were very popular with my students, and they recently resurfaced out of my storage closet. I made the connection that having the Geography Folders and creating a Felt Continent Map would be a natural link to the globe and support Chelyn’s growing understanding of other cultures and countries.
I enjoyed making the Geography Folders and Felt Continent Map with Chelyn, and she continues to take interest and utilize the materials since we made them a few months ago. I continue to find ways to relate our daily experience to the materials: for example, it’s a great introduction to travel and relative time. We can look at the globe and study how our road trip to the beach (4 hours away) is significantly shorter than grandmother’s journey from Korea to come visit us.
Beyond our friends and family that we travel to see, the materials are a great reference for the various friends and family that come to us. Chelyn has a classmate from India, and she enjoys finding India on the globe and looking in the corresponding yellow Geography Folder for pictures from India. At a recent playdate, I asked her classmate’s mom for a spare photo from India to add to our Folder, and she was delighted to contribute to Chelyn’s expanding folder.
When we meet various neighbors that come from other countries or travel to other countries or host visitors from other countries, we come back to the globe, map, and folders to figure it all out and link it to what Chelyn is already familiar with. My friend is from Mexico and Chelyn knows where to find her country on the globe and that it is in the orange felt continent of North America — my friend was even kind enough to bring a few photos that we could add to our orange North America Geography Folder, which Chelyn enjoys admiring from time to time.
The wider application is dazzling, and I celebrate with Chelyn when she makes her own connections. Just the other day, she mentioned to me, “Mommy, Korea is much smaller than India!” And then after practicing the sound for “i” one day at school, she paused as she spoke about her classmate, “Today, Maya brought a sari to show us from I-I-I-India — mommy, ‘India’ starts with ‘i’.”
I also like that the Geography Folders will grow with Chelyn, and continue to collect photos and postcards from new friends, neighbors, research projects, travels, and experiences. I have a friend who had a rich exposure to geography in her early childhood – both in the classroom and at home. She continues to be grateful for her early awareness and familiarity – she feels at home in the world, speaks multiple languages, has traveled to six continents, and always knows where to envision the stories she hears on the international news. In our recent conversation, we discussed the value of encouraging a perspective from a young age that others are “different,” not “weird” or “strange.” The Magical Trio is providing a substantial foundation for the journey and development of a conscious and aware citizen of the world – ready to soak in the beauty and diversity of the world around us.
Felt Continent Map
Flat tray or board for storage of materials
Good quality scissors
Bowl (or other circular object) to trace with 10-12 inch diameter
Fine point permanent marking pen
Ball of salt dough (or play dough) for introduction – see below
Stiff felt in multiple colors – my suggested color scheme
Orange for North America
Pink for South America
Yellow for Asia
Green for Africa
Red for Europe
Brown for Australia
White for Antarctica
Blue for 2 hemispheres (oceans)
Trace the continents using the pattern onto the corresponding colors and cut out.
Trace the circles onto the blue felt and cut out 2 blue circles
Assemble the materials (2 blue hemispheres and continent pieces) onto the tray
Designate a child-accessible spot/”home” for the materials
Introduce to the budding citizen of the world – see below…
Introduction / Application
Select a flat work space (floor or table) with enough space for the globe and laying out both felt hemispheres
Invite the child to admire the globe
Model proper use and handling of the globe (how to turn carefully, how to carry, etc.)
Explain how the globe is a sphere, and therefore we can’t see all the sides at once – ask, “Can you see my finger [placed on India] from where you’re sitting [looking at the USA]?”
Explain that we have figured out a way to be able to see the entire globe at once: take the ball of salt/play dough and smash it into a flat circle, place the 2 blue hemispheres on the work surface, and indicate that each side of the flat dough circle has a corresponding blue felt
Model how to place the continents on the workspace to match the globe
…later on, you can introduce the corresponding terminology like “continent, country, capital,” and names of the continents and countries.
*see above for suggested color scheme.
7 color-coded* containers/pouches/packets that can hold flat photos of various sizes
7 colors* of paper (cardstock, construction paper, etc.)
Photos from all the continents — including children, festivities, terrain, food, famous places, etc. As far as sources, this is where your creativity comes in: use friends and family to help you collect photos. Old National Geographic magazines and books from the thrift store are great sources as well.
Laminator – optional – helps to promote durability as this material will be used and maintain interest for years to come
Mount photos from various continents on the corresponding colored paper
If available, tape a caption or write some notes about the photo on the back – on the brown paper – to spark discussion along the way
Laminate if possible
Keep in mind – this material will be ever-expanding, so no need to flesh it all out and populate each folder with umpteen photos – invite your child to help: “I notice we don’t have a lot of photos for South America – let’s keep our eye out for where we can obtain some more images!”
Locate a child-accessible spot/”home” to place the folders
Keep the colored paper and glue readily available for adding photos as you find them
Introduce to the budding citizen of the world (see below)
Introduction / Application
Introduce one packet at a time
Let the child know that people live all over the world, and there are many different climates, terrain, and cultures.
Mention aspects of our own culture familiar to your child: i.e. in our culture, we tend to travel often by car and celebrate holidays with certain traditions like parades on July 4th.
Mention other cultures: i.e. other people around the world have different ways of doing things and dress in different clothes and celebrate different holidays in different ways. We have collected photos of the land and people from the continent of Asia.
Look through the photos and talk about each photo according to the child’s interest.
Jae Jun is a mother, former Montessori teacher and the creative force behind Bella’s Casa. It is a learning community for parents, as well as an Etsy shop selling handmade toys and materials for infants and young children.