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It's Good to get Global! Global citizenship in the Early Years

We all live in an interdependent world and therefore our experiences and actions in our local area are linked with the experiences and actions of those living all around the globe. The foundations for understanding this and for helping children to see that world issues are issues for them are laid at the Foundation Stage.

So what is Global Citizenship? Why is it important to introduce Global Citizenship at the Foundation Stage? How does Global Citizenship apply to the early-years curriculum? This article aims to answer these questions, and then gives examples of Global Citizenship activities appropriate for the Foundation Stage followed by a list of useful resources.

What is Global Citizenship?

Global Citizenship starts with a knowledge of how the world works and an awareness of the links between the local and the global. However, it goes beyond this to foster skills and attitudes which enable us to have a positive impact on the world, in the belief that we can make a difference. Building empathy, appreciating diversity and developing critical-thinking and conflict-resolution skills are all key to this approach. Global Citizenship acknowledges our responsibilities both to each other and to the earth itself. It is about understanding the need to tackle injustice and inequality, and having the desire and ability to do so. The earlier positive attitudes and skills can be developed, the better.

Global Citizenship is an approach to the way in which all activities are carried out, rather than an additional curriculum area. It is an ethos which is best implemented through a whole early-years setting approach and involves everyone with a stake in educating children, from children themselves to those with teaching and non-teaching roles, parents and the wider community. The learning goals set by early years practitioners play a crucial part in enabling children to gain the attitudes and skills needed to become pro-active in making the world a fairer, more sustainable place in the future.

Why is it important to introduce Global Citizenship at the Foundation Stage?

  • Children form ideas about who they are and how they fit into the world around them early on. They are already developing attitudes about their own self-worth and the worth of others by the time they reach the Foundation Stage. For evidence of this, see Catching Them Young, by Bob Dixon (Pluto Press, 1977) and Children and Race: 10 years on, by David Milner (Ward Lock Educational, 1983)
  • The attitudes and skills needed to make a positive contribution to making the world a fairer and more sustainable place in the future need to be encouraged and developed from an early age because, as research shows (Milner, 1983 and Dixon, 1977) many of the attitudes and skills learnt by children at the Foundation Stage are there to stay.
  • Global Citizenship forms an important part of good practice, and is in line with the current curriculum because it encompasses and develops issues of inclusion and equality. It builds on anti-racist education, multicultural education, gender education, human rights education, citizenship education and environmental education, and offers a specific – and unique – response to the challenge of poverty.
  • The participatory teaching approaches of Global Citizenship develop critical thinking and this has a positive impact on children and can raise standards in the Foundation Stage.

How does Global Citizenship apply to the early years curriculum?

Global Citizenship is as relevant to Foundation Stage children as it is to older children and adults. Listed below are examples of the ways in which the key elements of Global Citizenship are applicable to younger children.

Being aware of the wider world and having a sense of wonder about it.

Some children will have experience of traveling overseas and many will be aware of people living in their own community with links to other parts of the world. All children can appreciate and enjoy the many excellent stories now available featuring children and animals from a wide variety of countries. Global Citizenship education makes full use of these experiences and resources through discussion and other activities to develop the children’s sense of place in the wider world and to develop their thinking about how to contribute to the world in a positive way. In addition, there is much evidence of the global dimension in the children’s local area, such as in food or clothing from other countries. The role of Global Citizenship education is to develop this early knowledge and understanding through finding out about the people and places from which familiar objects come.

Having positive attitudes towards a variety of cultures, communities and lifestyles.

Foundation Stage children are already learning about the differences among themselves. Global Citizenship education underlines that there are many similarities between different groups and celebrates the differences in a respectful way. Adults working with the children need to foster positive attitudes to diversity and encourage a willingness to learn from the experiences of others. For example, they can help children to build empathy with other children around the world, and the ways in which they play, by helping them to learn games from other countries (see resources section).

Developing social awareness and the ability to resolve conflict.

Children are already tackling issues of injustice and inequality in their play through learning to share toys. This can be developed into a desire for social justice as they learn that not everyone in the world has an equal chance to take advantage of life’s opportunities. Conflict resolution is a key skill in Global Citizenship education and children in the early years frequently need help to resolve conflict. Helping children to overcome their differences in fair and non-violent ways lays the foundations for how they will deal with conflict and related issues in later life, enabling them to contribute positively to society as a whole.

Caring for the environment.

Education for Sustainable Development is integral to Global Citizenship and children can be encouraged to consider why it is important to care for the environment. Children will already be learning to care for the environment around them (for example in learning where to place rubbish and materials for recycling). The children can be encouraged to consider how those in other places around the world deal with issues of waste disposal and to think carefully about why it is important to look after their environment. They can think about how looking after their own early-years setting means that it is a welcoming place not just for them, but also for new children who join the group or class. The children can be encouraged to take an active role in making decisions about how their early-years environment is set up.

Being responsible for actions.

Foundation Stage children constantly encounter the fact that there are consequences to their actions. Learning to admit to and learn from mistakes can in later life help to foster a belief that things can be changed for the better and that individuals can make a difference in the world. Children can role-play a variety of situations in which they explore the language and feelings associated with taking responsibility.

Developing self-confidence and a sense of identity.

Foundation Stage children are still forming ideas about their place in the community and much can be done to enhance their self-confidence through positive encouragement. Children can be helped to gain a positive sense of their own identity through seeing positive images of themselves in relation to others and others in relation to themselves. Global Citizenship uses such images of children from North and South, and children can be encouraged to look carefully at these and to identify with those featured. This enables them to develop their own identity as a valuable citizen of the world, equal to others.

Learning to think critically, solve problems and express opinions.

Foundation Stage children can be encouraged to ask questions about the stories they read, such as: ‘What would happen if…’, ‘How do you think the different characters feel about…’, ‘How would different characters feel if…’. Empathy with the characters can be developed through role-play, where problems can be introduced into the scenario for children to solve. Children can also ‘hot-seat’ certain characters.

Global Citizenship activities

Below are some more detailed practical ways in which Global Citizenship can be implemented at the Foundation Stage.

All in a day – outline lesson plan

Learning intention

Children will gain an awareness of similarities and differences between people, an awareness of different places, and a positive attitude towards difference and diversity.


You will need a book or books showing children’s everyday lives around the world, such as Wake up World! by Beatrice Hollyer (Frances Lincoln in association with Oxfam, 1999) Let’s Eat! by Beatrice Hollyer (Frances Lincoln in association with Oxfam, 2003) or a book from the Discovery Flaps series (Child’s Play International/Oxfam, 1995) plus paper and crayons/paint. See resources section for further information.


Look at and talk about similarities between the daily lives of those children in the books and our own lives. Then discuss some of the differences and some possible reasons for them (for example the effect of climate). Finally ask the children to illustrate a frieze entitled, “A day in the life of our pre-school/nursery/playgroup/class,” as appropriate.

Healthy eating – outline lesson plan

Learning intention

Children will gain an awareness of different places and an appreciation of their local environment.


You will need a box of fruit and vegetables. Include some produced locally (or at least within the country) and some grown overseas, including some unfamiliar kinds. You will also need paper, glue, scissors and materials for collage and if possible, different types of waste paper, plastic and straw. A large world map would also be useful.


Show the children the different fruit and vegetables. Encourage them to look at, handle and name everything. Ask them where they think each piece comes from, and how it might get here – introduce the words ‘local’ and ‘global’ or ‘near’ and ‘far’. Refer to world map, if desired. Give children the opportunity to taste the fruit and vegetables. Finally ask children to make collages of the produce for a ‘healthy eating’ display.

Note that this activity could also be done at milk time, with one fruit or vegetable introduced each day.

(Both the above outline plans are adapted from activities listed in Global Citizenship: The Handbook for Primary Teaching by Mary Young with Eilish Commins (Oxfam/Chris Kington Publishing, 2002)

Stories and photographs

Use both local photographs/stories and ones from overseas to link local and global issues. Spend time discussing similarities and in celebrating differences between people and places. This helps children to learn to have a positive view of cultural diversity both in their own community and in the wider world. The children can be encouraged to ask questions about photographs and about the places and characters featured in stories/fact books. Role-play activities, hot-seating and circle time can all be used to develop issues and questions further. Stereotyping can be avoided by ensuring that a good range of photographs and stories are shown, and by highlighting the similarities between the lives of those featured and those of the children in the group, alongside discussing the differences. Below are two specific ways in which photographs can be used in the early-years setting:

Using captions

This activity makes use of captions to extend knowledge about pictures.

Work with a small group of children, and give them a caption for a photograph. Read the caption to the group, and think together about what might be happening in the corresponding photo. Make a list of the things they expect to see in their photo. Ask each child to draw a picture to go with the caption. (Alternatively, the group could work together to produce a large, shared picture.) When everyone has finished, look through a selection of photos and 'claim' the photo that matches their caption. Other groups of children in the class can work with the other photos. If more than one group claims a photo, the teacher should help the children to decide. Finally, the original photos and the drawings can be looked at together and the class can compare the results.


This activity helps children to understand that a photo is only a fragment of a much wider scene.

Crop a selection of photos in a way that will encourage pupils to imagine what is happening 'outside the frame'. Divide children into groups, and give each group a small part of a photo, stuck on to a large sheet of paper. Ask them to extend the picture by drawing. When they have finished, discuss what they have added. Show them the 'complete' photo, and compare it with their interpretation.

The above activities are based on activities from Oxfam’s Cool Planet for Teachers website. This site contains photographs and captions which can be used for the above activities and includes a wealth of other information about using photographs. Click here to visit the site page.

For further information about using photographs, see the resources section.

Help from parents/the local community

Many parents and others in the local community are actively involved at the Foundation Stage and this can provide a rich resource for information and materials. You could ask visitors to bring in everyday artefacts, such as food, eating implements and clothes from their homes and compare them with those in the homes of children in the group. Any photographs can be used in some of the ways described in the previous section.

Workshop for staff

It might be useful to hold a workshop with other members of staff to think about Global Citizenship in your own Foundation Stage environment. Brainstorm people’s current understanding of Global Citizenship and then consider any other principles mentioned earlier in this article. It should be noted that Global Citizenship can be understood by people in different ways, depending on their context. It is therefore useful to spend time as a group considering how to apply the principles of Global Citizenship to your own setting, and to allow people to explore their own ideas. Go on to look around the Foundation Stage environment and consider the strengths and weaknesses of resources for how well they reflect the principles of Global Citizenship. Think in turn about:

  • books
  • posters and photographs (for example are there pictures of children doing familiar activities like eating, playing or making journeys from around the world)
  • games
  • music (songs and tapes used, instruments)
  • home corner (could it sometimes be set up using fabrics and containers from other countries?)
  • dressing-up clothes (could these be sorted out into clothes for use in different climates?)
  • food served at snack time.

Finish by discussing any themes being covered and consider ways in which Global Citizenship can be incorporated. For example, in a theme about food, children could consider ways in which children from other parts of the world carry out similar tasks (such as shopping for food or cooking). In a theme about the seasons, consider climatic conditions elsewhere in the world and think about the ways in which this affects clothing and play.


For free on-line teaching resources see Oxfam’s Cool Planet website .

There are many other resources to help early years practitioners implement Global Citizenship in their early years environment. These resources provide excellent opportunities for sound teaching and learning within the Foundation Stage curriculum.

Examples of resources which support early learning goals in Personal, Social and Emotional Development and Knowledge and Understanding of the World:

  • Let’s Eat! by Beatrice Hollyer (Frances Lincoln/Oxfam, 2003) which features five children from different countries and looks at the food they eat through photographs.
  • Wake up World! by Beatrice Hollyer (Frances Lincoln/Oxfam, 1999) which features eight children from different countries and looks at how they spend their day.
  • A Child’s Day, From Dawn to Dusk series (Frances Lincoln). These are books based around photographs focusing on a particular child’s day (the series covers various countries).
  • Small Worlds series (Zero to Ten, 1999). These books take one aspect of a young child’s life, such as bedtime, washing or celebrating and show how it is practised around the world.
  • Your World, My World (Oxfam, 2001) which is a teacher’s photo-pack with plenty of activities exploring the lives of four children from round the world based around a citizenship theme.

Examples of resources which support early learning goals in Mathematical Development:

  • A Triangle for Adaora by Ifeoma Onyefulu (Frances Lincoln 2001). This looks at shapes from around the world.
  • Photo Opportunities Maths (Oxfam 2001). This is a teacher’s photo-pack with activities written by a Numeracy consultant. (reviewed here as a previous FSF product of the month)
  • One Child, One Seed by Kathryn Cave (Frances Lincoln, in association with Oxfam, 2002). This encourages children to count from 1 to 10 using photographs and a simple text.

Examples of resources which support early learning goals Communication, Language and Literacy:

  • W is for World by Kathryn Cave (Frances Lincoln/Oxfam 2004). This alphabet book features over twenty countries around the world.
  • Under the Moon and Over the Sea , edited by John Agard and Grace Nichols (Walker Books, 2002). This is a collection of Caribbean poems.
  • Skip Across the Ocean, selected by Floella Benjamin (Frances Lincoln, 1995).

For further information on using stories for Global Citizenship see:

  • Talking Drum (Christian Aid/SCIAF, 1996)
  • Start with a Story (Birmingham DEC, 2002).

For further information on games played around the world see:

  • Ebele’s Favourite: A book of African games , by Ifeoma Onyefulu (Frances Lincoln, 2000). This is a book based on photographs and includes instructions for playing games.
  • Games We Play (Manchester Development Education Project, 2004). This pack features ten ‘street’ games from around the world.

For further information on Global Citizenship see:

  • A Curriculum for Global Citizenship (Oxfam, 1997) available on Oxfam’s Cool Planet for Teachers website, which can be found on-line here.
  • Global Citizenship: The Handbook for Primary Teaching by Mary Young with Eilish Commins (Oxfam/Chris Kington Publishing, 2002)

For further information on using photographs (and in avoiding stereotyping) see:

  • Global Citizenship: The Handbook for Primary Teaching by Mary Young with Eilish Commins (Oxfam/Chris Kington Publishing, 2002)
  • Making it Real (Save the Children/Birmingham DEC, 1996).
  • Photo Opportunities on Oxfam’s Cool Planet for Teachers website here.

Many of the resources listed above can be found in Oxfam resources for children in the early years, which can be found online here.

For a wider range of materials see Oxfam’s Catalogue for Schools 2003/4, available on-line here

Copyright © Oxfam GB 2005, exclusively for the Foundation Stage Forum

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