Grasping the World: Geography for Young Children

Between mass media and family travel, young children are exposed to all sorts of language about their planet. They may hear phrases like “going around the world,” “as the world turns,” or “the other side of the world.” Young children absorb this information yet still need concrete experiences to help make sense of what “the world” even means!

Over 100 years ago, Dr. Maria Montessori observed how younger children were drawn to the globes that older children were using. Through careful observation, Dr. Montessori came to understand how young children crave a concrete understanding of concepts like the world, the earth, and the globe.

Concrete Materials

In Montessori, we offer concrete materials so children can experience accurate representations of these abstract concepts. We start by providing a small globe. The land surfaces are covered with fine sandpaper and the water surfaces are covered with smooth blue paint, so children can tactically explore the distribution of land and water surfaces over planet earth. With the globe, children get to literally grasp the shape of the planet and have a richer understanding of phrases like “going around the world.”

We also have a set of materials so children can learn about different kinds of land and water forms. Children can pour water into beautifully created models of an island, lake, peninsula, gulf, isthmus, strait, cape, bay, archipelago, or system of lakes. The water flows into the water area (painted blue) and moves around the land area (painted brown). As children learn the names of these land and water forms, they also explore folders with photographs of actual land and water forms from around the world.

Montessori classrooms also have a second globe to show how the land surfaces are divided into continents. Each continent is painted a different color (green for Africa, red for Europe, orange for North America, pink for South America, brown for Oceania, and white for Antarctica). The color coding of the continents stays consistent throughout all the materials, which helps with association and retention.

Once children have grasped this concept of the land and water distinctions on the globe, we show them a flat puzzle map divided by the Eastern and Western hemispheres with each continent (color-coded as above) as a separate puzzle piece. This continent puzzle map gives children the chance to see all of the continents at once as they look on a two-dimensional map.

We also offer maps of each continent to show the political partitions formed by countries. Each puzzle piece is a country, with the knob for picking up the piece located at the country’s capital. Children initially use these puzzle maps in a very sensorial way, taking the maps apart and putting them back together. As children engage with this e