Global citizenship in ECE podcast header

Global citizenship in early childhood education [Podcast]

The week on The Preschool Podcast, we are honored to welcome Dr. Paula Laurel Jackson, Director of Global Citizenship at Barefoot Books. Paula comes from four generations of educators and so, education, in general, is in her DNA. She has also lived in three continents and seen the effects that positive early childhood experiences have in establishing a solid foundation for life. Children are born with open hearts, and creative and curious minds. This, unfortunately, shifts as they become older and go through schooling. She is passionate about early childhood education because it gives her hope for the future.

What is global citizenship?

Global citizenship is a mindset, a way of thinking, doing, and acting. It is based on the fact that every one of us is linked to each other through our history and culture. We have a shared home, our planet. By focusing on the larger picture, we will consider the attitudes and skills necessary to facilitate a sustainable, peaceful, and equitable future for all.

Global citizenship in early childhood education

Global citizenship in early childhood education is led by this question most parents and educators have: how can we set up our children to succeed in this world? Societies are enormously diverse and schools and childcare centers have to deal with this. Global citizenship puts to the core the skills necessary in order for children to understand our connections.

Strategies for teaching global citizenship:

  1. Inquire about the world – be curious and ask questions
  2. Understand multiple perspectives – your own and others
  3. Use respectful dialogue
  4. Take action – we all can do things to make a difference

Global citizenship gives children hope that they can be different and shows them it all starts with them. Compassion for yourself and others is at its core. It further relates to early childhood education because it is a fundamental skill set for life and future learning. It incorporates social-emotional learning, critical thinking, etc. – much of what we teach focuses on this anyways and this reminds us to keep it at our core.

Give children a chance to understand things like climate change with hope instead of fear. They want to understand the world beyond their homes, neighborhoods and cities.

Paula Jackson

Global citizenship starts with the educator

Be aware of your own perspective – who am I in this world? How does this relate to how others see me? Questioning your daily habits, having an open mind, and recognizing different perspectives and why they exist. Work on yourself first and then you can teach it to your children!

Bringing global citizenship into the classroom

Storytime can inspire and enable children to see new perspectives. The same goes with role-playing! Every child needs to be exposed to books in which they can see themselves. Children who do not see themselves reflected in the stories they read can develop low self-esteem which spills over into how they learn and grow. Global citizenship is becoming a fundamental skill that we need in order to survive.

Podcast Transcript


Much of what we do in early-childhood education is actually focusing on that anyway. We all want to raise kind, loving individuals. So, I think it’s just really focusing on that and keeping that at the core. And that’s the essential.


Paula, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!


I am very happy to be here with you, Ron. Very excited!


We are very excited to have you with us Paula Laurel Jackson. She’s the director of global citizenship at Barefoot Books, a wonderful company that creates some wonderful content. And we’re going to be talking to Paula today about global citizenship and what that is, what it means, why it’s important for a conversation on the Preschool Podcast, which of course, is relevant to everybody out there working in early-childhood education. Paula, let’s start off learning a little bit about you. How did you get to take on this role at Barefoot Books?


That’s a bit of a long story, but let me start off by saying in terms of who I am. I would say I’m first and foremost an educator. I come from a family of educators – in fact, three generations. So, I’m definitely deeply invested in that field. Let me just share my sort of trajectory, which sort of brought me to where I am today, quickly.

So, my first teaching experience was as a music teacher. I used to actually teach piano, as my first career. And I would teach in schools and I used to teach in schools wherever I would perform. So, if I would perform in one location, I’d always do a music workshop and work with children. And I started to really become more passionate about my working with children than I was performing. So, I gave that up.

And then I headed over to the University of Oxford to study international and comparative education because I was really curious about the way in which children learnt in different contexts and how different education systems were structured. And so during my studies, I was also a supply teacher in various schools across London and Oxford and created a number of summer schools for multilingual children in Germany and helped to build and develop schools from the ground up in Europe and in Africa.

And then I went on, I did my doctoral degree to take that even further. And after my Ph.D., I then worked for 16 years for a number of NGOs and multilateral institutions, exploring different aspects of educational reform, teacher training and global citizenship, which I’ve become incredibly passionate about.

So, Barefoot Books: I was gifted a book a couple of years ago – it was right before the pandemic – from my daughter, it was called Mama Panya’s Pancakes [A Village Tale From Kenya, by Mary & Rich Chamberlin and Julia Cairns]. And it was absolutely delightful. I loved this book because it really resonated strongly with my whole philosophy of what I thought education should be. Besides the beautiful pictures that were exhibited, you have this beautiful story. And at the back of the book, you had sort of educational content about the context. And I said, “This is amazing.” And I contacted the CEO, the founder [of Barefoot Books] on LinkedIn. And we had a series of conversations. And well, here I am.


Very cool, very cool. And let’s now talk about global citizenship. So, you mentioned it there a little bit in your introduction about yourself. What is global citizenship?


So, global citizenship is really a mindset. It’s a way of thinking and doing and acting. And it’s based on an understanding that every single human being, we’re all inextricably linked to each other through our histories, through our culture, and that we have this shared whole, our planet. And it’s having respect for these connections, that interconnectedness, essentially. That’s it in a nutshell.

So, by focusing on the larger picture of our connectedness, we consider the skills and the attitudes necessary to facilitate a sustainable, peaceful and equitable future, basically for everybody so that the basis of global citizenship is really driven and led by the essential question that I think most parents and educators have. Looking at the world today, we’re asking, “How best can we prepare our kids not only to survive, but to succeed and thrive in this incredibly fast changing, globally connected world?”

Look at everything, everything is literally becoming more interdependent. If you look, stats are showing that at the moment there are over 200 million migrants. And migration and migrating are creating societies that are just enormously diverse and different, linguistically and culturally. And schools have to now deal with this change. Schools are just not in the same environment in which they were created 100 years ago.

So, global citizenship really puts to the core the skills necessary in order for students to understand a connection. So, it’s based on… I would say there’s four dispositions, as you may, which one has to consider. And one is sort of a disposition to inquire about the world. So, it’s being curious and asking questions. The second one is sort of having a disposition to understand multiple perspectives: your own, of course, but then others. Things like resisting stereotypes or even understanding stereotypes; valuing our shared dignity, as human beings.

The third one is essentially a disposition towards respectful dialog, being able to sort of communicate across differences, appropriately, and also listening. And then the fourth is essentially a disposition towards taking action. I think a lot of children today… we all could do things to make a difference. And global citizenship gives children hope and basically tells them that what you do here could effectively have impact in other places. It all starts with you and what actions can you take in order to create change in order to make the world better, so to speak.

So, that’s in a nutshell what global citizenship means. And I think now it’s sort of been a float word around institutions such as Invesco, the Asia Society, Oxfam, Harvard University, they have different definitions which are more or less in alignment and have now created curricula for schools to use in order to inspire teachers to implement these sort of dispositions and skills. And at the bottom of all of this is really compassion, having compassion towards yourself and towards others. That’s really what global citizenship means.


Yeah, and if we think about the current climate today with Russia’s presence in Ukraine, you can quickly see sort of the risks of not having that mindset of global citizenship and what can result.




And so now that we understand global citizenship as a concept, as a mindset, how does it relate specifically to early-childhood education? Why do you feel it’s very important in that context?


Well, I think it relates to early-childhood education because it’s a fundamental basis for life. It is the essential sort of skill set that we need to continue to learn, so for future learning. And it incorporates the social-emotional learning; it incorporates critical thinking. So in essence, it’s just establishing that foundation really where it all begins. Much of what we do in early-childhood education is actually focusing on that anyway. We all want to raise kind, loving individuals. So, I think it’s just really focusing on that and keeping that at the core. And that’s the essential.


Yeah, it’s one of those things that just feels so important, that if we can get that mindset at that early age, it could have such a big impact when we think about things like climate change and all the other challenges that we have in the world today, could be so impactful.


And giving children that chance to understand that. You hear about climate change and there’s a fear. And instead of instilling this fear, we try to sort of instill hope and say, “Well, there’s something that you can do about this.” And there are tiny things that one could do. Let’s just talk about the foods that we eat, for example. Where do they come from? Let’s talk about the trajectory of a banana or chocolate, for example. Kids understand this and kids are innately anyway curious.

So, it’s really just tapping into that innate curiosity that they have. Kids want to understand the world beyond their homes, beyond their neighborhoods, beyond their cities. They want to understand how things work. So, it’s really that us as educators giving them the capacity in order to develop that understanding. And once they have that understanding, then they could be in a capacity to change and to do things about it.


And I’m going to guess that, as an educator – or any adult, for that matter – it’s going to be important for you to make that mindset shift and to think like a global citizen before we can have those conversations with the children that we’re with. Yeah, and I think if we look and try to take anything positive out of what’s happening in Ukraine right now, for example, we are seeing some of that global citizenship rising through to the top where, no matter where you’re from, people are with the people of Ukraine and the challenges that they’re facing right now. And I think in particular with social media and the access to having those conversations has been a really important aspect of that support and that citizenship, regardless of what country or a nation that you’re from.


Precisely, exactly. And you just said it there, it’s really, first and foremost, that recognition that, first and foremost, we are all sort of citizens of a global in this world. And secondary, we are citizens of nation states, but that comes afterwards. As you rightly said, we’re experiencing this very, very prominently at the moment.


Yeah. And once we make that mindset shift on our own, what are some tips or ideas you have to then translate that, [to] bring that mindset into the classroom with the young children we’re working with every day?


Well, I think one thing, I love books – I mean, clearly. And I think stories are always a very powerful way to inspire and to enable children – or anyone, for that matter, to look at things from different perspectives. So, I always use books as that sort medium, in that regard. And I mean, even just looking at your favorite book and trying to read it from some different perspectives, that already is an incredibly empowering experience.

But then with the children as well, having them sort of play roles, role play. Let them take on the role of a different character and see how they would respond and then ask questions. Let them slip into the shoes of someone else and an act from that perspective. That is incredibly powerful.


And do you think that this concept of global citizenship could even play a role in helping children develop their literacy and reading skills?


Absolutely. What I like to do is that when I give a book to a child, I say, “This is a new world. This is a world that you’re being presented with.” And stories, I tell them, are sort of like superpowers. And everyone has stories within them. And they can create their own super powers by looking at the stories that are around them and then be able to create their own. So, of course.

I mean, for example, I have to bring in Barefoot Books. And this is exactly what we do: we open hearts and minds and worlds by introducing children to books that reflect the world back to them and in empowering ways. And it is empowering when a child opens a book and they see a story about a little boy that maybe looks like him or acts like him or does things like him. He’s invested in that story. That’s something, there’s that connection that’s made. And that’s powerful, that’s really wonderful. So, books have enormous potential in being able to bring about this concept of global diversity in many, many regards.


Yeah, and it almost just brings that point to the fore of the access to information that we have and that children have ends up being so critical to the way they think about the world. And in that regard, what about schools? So, my four-year-old [child] comes home every day with two new books that he grabs from the library there. So, the books that they have there are going to be very impactful on a lot of children’s lives, especially those children who may not have access to books at home. Any thoughts there, in terms of how we can get better access to these great books, like the ones that Barefoot Books is publishing?


I wish I had an answer to that, in terms of how to get better access. But I think that in my mind, everybody needs these books. They need to see books in which they can see themselves. I’m just looking at… there’s research that’s coming out just in the United States regarding people of color, for example. Children who do not see themselves reflected in the stories that they read, they develop low self-esteem, for example. And that then affects the way in which they learn and that has spillover effects on different other topics. And that’s fundamental. So, we really need – and right now there is a call for more diverse books, and it’s happening – but we really need more. We need books that really reflect the world back to the children who exist in this world.


Yeah. So I guess, fundamentally, really, it’s the folks that are making these decisions about what books to put on the bookshelves in schools [that] have that global citizenship mindset, right?


Precisely. Global citizenship, for me, it’s really… I talk about it as a set of competencies, but it’s really becoming, as you see how the world is changing now, a fundamental skill that we’re going to need in order to, I think, just even sort of survive. And with that, we’re talking about the social-emotional learning. It’s all very much encompassed within that. We’re talking about income system, climate change, for example. What can children do in order to just become aware of what’s going on in our planet? Kids need to have this knowledge and we have to find ways of giving it to them.


Absolutely. And can you share with our audience any professional development resources that might help them develop their knowledge and mindset on global citizenship, or any topic related to early-childhood education more broadly?


Yes, I mean, I definitely would say that the Barefoot Books are absolutely phenomenal. I absolutely adore The Barefoot Book Of Children [by Tessa Strickland, Kate Depalma and David Dean], which really gives a beautiful view of the everyday lives of children all around the world. It’s a great resource, a book for teachers and parents alike. We also have kids decks, the sort of Global Kids Deck, which has lots of games and crafts and recipes from all over the world. I think that’s very exciting.

In terms of professional development, I just know that the Asia Society, for example, they have a lot of documentation on the importance of global citizenship, why it’s needed. There’s research that’s backing it up. The Harvard Project Zero Research Group, they do a lot of work on global competence, or OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] also has a lot of research on that. And UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization]. So, those are places I would go to just get a broad sort of research base as to why is this so important. And really focusing on where the world is shifting.


Absolutely, it’s so important. And thanks for sharing those resources. And if our listeners want to get more information about Barefoot Books or maybe check out some of the books or order some books, where can they go to get more information?


Yes, that is on our website, And everything is there, everything that you will need us there. We even have teacher resources, as well, information that teachers and parents could use, based on some of the books. It’s all there.


Oh, great. And what is sort of the age range for these books? And who are the authors? Maybe you can tell our audience a little bit more about sort of the background behind Barefoot Books.


Well, this year we’ll be celebrating our 30th anniversary. And it was started off by two ladies, they were in the UK at the time, Nancy Traversy and Tessa Strickland. And yes, I think in September, yes, will be our 30th year. So, stay tuned to lots of events and celebratory things going on. And yeah, it’s quite exciting. We’re a small company, completely women-led. And all of our contributors, authors and illustrators are from all around the world, all around the globe.


Very cool, which, of course, makes sense with our topic today of global citizenship. So, we’ve come full circle. Check out Barefoot Books. I can speak from firsthand experience, Paula was kind enough to send some books are away for our two young ones to enjoy. And they really do love those books. And also I had a similar experience to Paula’s, as she described, reading a Barefoot Books item and just that feeling that they’re really learning something important. And those educational pieces in the back to really have a conversation around the book and ask questions and have some discussion, really great ways to learn over and above just reading. So, I definitely recommend checking it out.

And a big thank you, Paula, to you for joining us here today to share your experience and learnings on, I think, what is a very new idea, but a very important one for the future and for our youngest children and global citizenship. So, thanks again for joining us, Paula!


My utmost pleasure. Thank you so much, Ron!

Christie White

Christie is a Senior Content Marketing Specialist at HiMama. She is passionate about children's development, parenting, and supporting the child care industry. She has been working to support child care centers with their events and marketing for almost a decade. In her personal life, Christie lives in Stouffville, ON with her husband Kyle and dog Tucker. She enjoys going for walks, baking, cooking, and watching reality tv!

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