Building global awareness in stay-at-home kids

Written by contributor Lora Lynn Fanning of VitaFamiliae

In a time where the world seems to be shrinking smaller, it’s important that we encourage global awareness and compassion in our children.

Kids need to be familiar not just with their own backyard, but the people and the cultures that exist all over the globe.

So how do we do this when, most days, we may not exit the front door?

Integrate geography into your home

Global awareness begins with an understanding of geography.

Using maps as decoration is all the rage on Pinterest these days and homeschoolers everywhere can rejoice. Not only is it now socially acceptable to decorate our walls with maps, it’s actually cool! The key to making maps both beautiful and useful is to display them in high traffic areas in the house.

We put a world map and any maps we need for our current studies in the dining room, right where we eat every meal. Before the children can be excused from the table, they need to find a spot of my choosing on the map.

For the older children, they find the country and the capital. For the younger kids, we learn continents and oceans first. The kids think it’s fun to quiz each other and they especially delight in trying to “stump” Mommy.

Photo by Carrie Perkins Taylor

We also have a corner in our living room we call the “peaceful corner.” It has one chair, a lamp, and a small table. I keep a globe and some “peaceful” books for the kids to look at (and for me) when they get overwhelmed.

There’s another map on the wall nearby for them to study if the mood strikes. We encourage our kids to use the Peaceful Corner to think of others.

Which brings me to my next point…

Fill your home with resources

We have two books we keep out all of the time to help us think about our world not just in terms of location, but in terms of People. Operation World and the children’s version, Window on the World, describe countries and the people who live there. They include population, physical struggles, cultural issues, and information about the religious landscape.

If you are a praying family, there are also included ways you can pray for the people and the missionaries who serve them. The countries are arranged in alphabetical order, but they are also set up as a 365-day calendar so that you can study and pray for the entire world in one year.

Window on the World is a simplified version of this, covering only some of the countries in Operation World. It has bright pictures and stories about children in countries, not just “populations.” It’s much more relational for small people.

For my youngest children, we keep a board book copy of Prayer For A Child by Rachel Field on the small table next to the globe.

Other helpful resources are kid newspapers and online websites such as Scholastic News or God’s World News.

Lead by example

Get involved as a family in projects that help others around the world. The opportunities are endless. You can sell cupcakes, raise money for mosquito nets, or sponsor a child in need.

There are dozens of sponsor programs to choose from. Each of our older children sponsors a child their age and they exchange letters. This helps put names and faces to the places on our map and the real needs we can help meet globally.

One of our sponsored children lives in Haiti and knowing that “our” child lived there put the earthquake in perspective for our children much faster than any news program or book could.

Include your kids in the purchase of gifts or the giving of birthday and Christmas money to the sponsored child and talk about what these important days look like for other children. This helps them remember that the days they look forward to in their own lives are meaningful but very different for children in different cultures.

Don’t stay home

Homeschoolers usually have far more flexibility to travel and see the world. Take advantage of this at every opportunity. Whether your trip is for sight-seeing or aid-related, your children will gain new understanding about their world.

And even if you just tag along on a parent’s business trips, don’t worry about bringing your workbooks. Remember that every moment is “school” and the lessons your children learn as they experience new places and cultures are intensely valuable.

Educating our children and encouraging compassion for others is part of our legacy… to our children and to the world. How do YOU build global awareness in your kids?

About Lora

Lora Lynn Fanning blogged for 11 years about her family life with seven kids at Vitafamiliae. These days, she homeschools her growing brood, teaches writing both in person for co-ops and online for Brave Writer, and writes at her new site,


  1. I love the thought of raising my kids, knowing that where we live is not the center of the universe. I must admit I need to work on it. One of the things that was really helpful for us was putting the map on the dining room table. We just put a clear table cloth over it. It is a great conversation piece for the family and when you have guests.
    Paula’s latest post: A Journey to a Healthier Me: Get Running App Review and Giveaway

  2. Great thoughts! Living on the other side of the world right now has us teaching our little guys a lot about geography and culture. We are trying to teach them about where there live now as well as “where the grandparents live,” where they were born, and other cultures too. It’s neat to see how much they soak up at such young ages when it is personal to them.
    Anna@The DIY Mom’s latest post: Mandarin Mondays:等一等 (Wait a Little)

  3. Great post! Does anyone have a good website to purchase maps at a great price?

  4. This is something that is very dear to me as well. I grew up overseas and my husband comes from a bi-culture family. We have a map on our wall, and my son is beginning to learn countries and continents. My oldest is only 4 but we have already started this process. It is so important to make them aware that their world is big!
    Johanna @ My Home Tableau’s latest post: Living Outside the Mold

  5. I love these tips! My kids adore maps so we use a lot of those, and I’m always looking for great books–thanks for those titles.

    Another way we try to build global awareness is through food. We’ve had a great time as a family with Rick Bayless’s cookbook Rick & Laney’s Excellent Kitchen Adventure, which gives the perspective of a celebrity chef and his teenage daughter as they travel to 5 countries visiting chef friends. And exploring global foods is definitely fun for the whole family 🙂
    Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy’s latest post: Comment on Summer School: Simple Ways to Create a Content-Rich Environment (and Why You Should Care) by Modern Mrs. Darcy My (Introverted) Guide to Surviving Summer.

  6. My daughter is not quite three but is already starting to get the concept of a map. These are some great ideas as we move forward.
    Steph’s latest post: Housekeeping Confessions

  7. We got a great map on amazon, beautiful colors, and I mounted it on cork board and framed it to go with things. I posted here about how we use it–it also sits in our dining area.
    Sarah’s latest post: concerning fairy gardens and little girls

  8. I also found that world map placemats at the dinner table are a GREAT way to spark discussion! Since we’re already sitting down, it not only gives us a topic of conversation, but time to listen and learn from each other.
    Angela’s latest post: Kelsey Nixon’s Skillet Blueberry-Peach Cobbler (made GF/DF).

  9. As they get older, reading great novels from different perspectives (ex. surrounding WWII) and discussing can help to ‘see’ others as real people and not think in terms of ‘them vs. us’; making friends with people in our community from different backgrounds; openly discussing how and why we spend our $ – for instance, why we choose to buy fair-trade, support various organizations…; discuss current events in an open-ended way – we don’t always have to “know the right answer” but as a family we can talk about hard issues, including our own biases. As our kids get older it becomes more obvious, too, if we are just “throwing money at a situation” or if we are willing to genuinely care about other people – ex. by building relationships even when it is hard for us b/c of cultural and language barriers, for instance.

  10. Christy says:

    There is a wonderful Bible called The Global Children’s Bible. Even I love the translation, and it has become my go-to Bible. Included are page-long write-ups on many countries all over the world, with statistics, how children live in those countries, etc. It would also be a wonderful way to allow children to think about other kids in the world and pray for them!

  11. is my go to site for anything geography. I am a homeschool mom of two, and new geography blogger, so we are VERY geography centric. There isn’t much that I can’t relate to geography some how. I have a degree in Geography, I can’t help myself 😉
    Thank you for your tips, but mostly thank you for bringing attention to the need for geography education.
    Awilda’s latest post: OpSail 2012

  12. We speak often of people in other countries—we adopt two children from Tanzania and have learned a bit about that country as well as sponsor a missionary from India.

    Currently, we are in the process of adopting a child from Ghana, to give a child a home who doesn’t have one.

    I think it is excellent practice to teach our children young about the countries, cultures, and needs outside our own. 🙂
    Christin @ Joyful Mothering’s latest post: Welcome and Intro {Beautiful Battle}

  13. Howdy! This post could not be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this write-up to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!
    Darlene’s latest post: got here

  14. Thank yo for the great reminders and ideas! I do need to build in more Geography into our schooling, and love the ideas and resources!
    Debbye’s latest post: How Stay-At-Home Parents May Be Sabotaging Baby’s Sleep

  15. Yes! I just finished teaching a class on this at our homeschool co-op and was amazed at how much many of them didn’t know. Our world gets smaller every day and it is so very important that we as parents make sure our kids know about and have compassion for other cultures. It’s so good to get outside our own bubble and see all that the world holds. Thanks for sharing!
    Erin’s latest post: Counting His Unending Gifts :: June 11

  16. The Lord has really opened a door for us with my husband’s current job. He is responsible for every international student who comes to the U.S. for flight school. We had the opportunity to host 21 Singaporean students for Thanksgiving. We celebrated Octoberfest with the German students. We were honored to have four Saudi Arabian gentlemen come to our home and cook dinner for us and we have visited with students from a couple of other countries on various occasions. It has made things much simpler to say, “remember Mr. Davio, he is from Singapore, let’s find it on the map!” Or, we are studying Egypt this year and a friend of ours visited her sister in Egypt who is married to a man from Egypt. Any extra connection seems to make things stick in their minds more easily. Also, we have friends who go on mission trips to India and Brazil several times a year, it is always fun to find where a friend is and try to figure out what all they flew over to get there.

  17. Love, love, love this post. Thanks for the books you’ve recommended.
    shelli : mamaofletters’s latest post: A Homeschool Pre-Kindergarten Graduation

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