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When Should You Teach Preschoolers About the Outside World?
For preschoolers, the world is a big, exciting and also quite mysterious place. For this reason, teaching about it might seem to be an overwhelming task in the early childhood setting. Many educators may wonder just where one begins when introducing a thematic study of the world to children between the ages of 3 and 5.
The truth is that at this age, children need only a simple introduction focusing on a few, key concepts. Offering one or two memorable facts the students can walk away with should be the goal of any lesson.
For this reason, I have found that in my own early childhood classroom experience, preschool crafts are a necessary complement to information being presented as part of your unit of study. They work to reinforce abstract concepts through concrete demonstrations. Offered here are two main concepts about the world, which are cognitively appropriate for use with preschoolers. Also included are related preschool crafts. "World" lessons are greatly enhanced using both the direct instruction and tactile applications.
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A Big, Round, Beautiful Ball!
If you are able to display images of the planet Earth--the round globe with its swirling colors as it is seen from space--you will help students to better understand a visualization of the planet. See if the children are able to guess what is causing the different colors.
Tell them that the white coloring comes from the clouds which surround the Earth's atmosphere. The blue comes from oceans, lakes, rivers and streams we find around the world. The green and the brown comes from the land we live on. You can also teach them that centuries ago, people believed that the world was flat, like a map.
The book Earth, Our Planet in Space, by Seymour Simon offers stunning photography to accompany your discussion, and What's So Special about Planet Earth, by Robert E. Wells will give children a better understanding of why our world is the only planet in the solar system where people could live.
After viewing images of our world from space, and learning more about what makes planet Earth suitable for inhabits to live on, the children will have fun creating their own version of the big, round, beautiful ball we call home. Here is what you will need to get the craft started:
- art smocks
- green acrylic or tempera paint
- white acrylic or tempera paint
- blue acrylic or tempera paint
- brown acrylic or tempera paint
- clear, round ornaments (one ornament for each child) - glass or acrylic
- 4 paper cups for the paint, and one additional paper cup for each child
- 4 eye droppers - one for each cup
Have students wear their art smocks for this craft depicting the world from space. Begin by pouring a small amount of the paint colors into the paper cups - one color per cup. Remove the metal tops from the ornaments. You may wish to do this yourself. Try to find acrylic ornaments as glass ornaments can be too fragile for youngsters.
- Using the eye droppers, students will add drops of paint inside the glass ornament, and then gently swirl the ball to distribute the color. Use the white paint first, as this represents the clouds, which are found on the outer layer of our Earth's atmosphere. Two or three drops of white paint should be sufficient. Swirl the ball.
- Next, add 1-2 drops of the brown and green paints, to represent the land. Again, swirl the ball before adding the next color.
- Finally, add 3 or 4 drops of the blue paint, to represent the water. As the students will learn in the next lesson, water is what our world is mostly comprised of. Once again, swirl.
- Dry the ornaments upside down, resting on top of a paper cup. The extra paint will drip out.
- Replace the metal top to each ornament, and add an optional ribbon for hanging.
***Safety Disclaimer: It cannot be overstated that working with glass ornaments can be a safety hazard if not handled properly. Caution the children to be careful not to bump the ornaments on the work table, or knock them into one another. If a break should occur, be certain to clean up any large glass pieces immediately, and then use a damp disposable towel to wipe away any additional glass fragments.
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Undoubtedly, children of all ages will be fascinated to learn that the world is mostly made of water--not land. In fact, over 70% of the Earth's surface is made entirely of water! Furthermore, scientists estimate that approximately 97.5% of that water appears in the form of salt water. That means that it is not available for us to drink. We only have approximately 2.5% of fresh water, and most of that is frozen in polar icecaps or lies deep under the ground. What is left is less than 1% of all of the fresh water on Earth--in the form of lakes, rivers, reservoirs and shallow underground sources--available for direct human uses.
These facts can be reinforced with paper collage preschool crafts. "World" images are created by the students using a torn paper technique. Below you will find the instructions and list of materials you will need to begin the project. You may also wish to create a finished sample for the children to reference as they create their own.
- paper plates or strawberry baskets (one per student)
- 9"x12" sheets of blue construction paper
- 9"x12" sheets of green construction paper
- glue sticks (one for each student)
- paper clip (one for each student) - optional
- clear fishing wire - optional
- one copy of a blank world image for each student, reproduced on heavy white or cream-colored cardstock or construction paper
Prepare for the craft ahead of time by cutting the 9"x12" sheets of blue and green construction paper into 1"x9" strips. While students will need a varying quantity of these strips, you will most certainly need more blue strips than green strips. You may find that you will have to cut additional strips during the activity, so have the necessary materials on hand as a back-up. If you are short on time, you may also want to prepare ahead by cutting out the individual world maps for each student. Otherwise, you can have the children cut this out on their own during work time.
Begin by asking the children to spend some time tearing their 1"x9" strips of blue and green construction paper into pieces. You will most likely need to demonstrate this process. The pieces should not be too large or too small. Pieces that are approximately 1/2" in size work well. Keep in mind that, since the students are tearing the strips, the pieces will be irregular in shape and size. Pieces can be contained on a paper plate or in a strawberry basket. This will keep them from winding up on the floor!
Next, introduce the above information about the water of the world to your students. You may even wish to use the storybook, All the Water in the World, by George Ella Lyon, as a read-aloud to reinforce the lesson.
Explain to the students that they will use the torn pieces of paper to demonstrate that the world is made mostly of water. If you have not already done so, ask the children to use a pair of scissors to cut out the round world image, which has been reproduced on the piece of white or cream cardstock. Ask them to notice that some areas of the map have a letter W, while other areas have a letter L. The areas with a letter W are areas on the Earth's surface that are covered in water, while the areas showing a letter L are land-masses.
Their job is to use a glue stick to affix the torn pieces of paper onto the world map. The blue pieces of torn paper will be glued to the areas with a letter W, and the green pieces of torn paper will be glued to the areas on the map showing the letter L. Remind students that it is okay if their pieces of torn paper overlap. In fact, when they are finished, they should not be able to find any white spaces still showing. Like a puzzle, they may find that they have to search through their pile of torn pieces to find a right fit, or tear a piece even smaller. They may also find that they have too many or too few pieces of torn paper. They can share with one another, or tear more as needed.
Afterward, you may wish to trim the edges of the circle, to remove any ends sticking out. If you like, you may string a paper clip through the top of their world collages. Add clear fishing line, and the collages can be suspending from the ceiling of the classroom for display.
When the students have finished, have them notice that most of their paper collage is blue. Remind them that this is because most of the Earth's surface is covered in water--not land.
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Share Your Ideas and Successes
While these lessons are not meant to be an all-encompassing unit of study, the lessons and crafts can stand alone or serve as a nice complement to a larger thematic study or unit. Do you have other lesson ideas or preschool crafts of the world that you are willing to share? If so, be sure to visit the comments section below.
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Crafts are from author's own experience as a classroom teacher and homeschooling parent
Simon, Seymour. Earth, Our Planet in Space [Simon & Schuster, 2003]
Wells, Robert E. What's So Special About Planet Earth [Albert Whitman & Co., 2010]
Lyon, George Ella. All the Water in the World [Atheneum, 2011]
World collage - author's own photo