In Montessori schools, children are exposed to a whole range of geography materials including puzzle maps and globes. A four or five-year-old is likely to be familiar with the Sandpaper Globe of Land and Water and the Coloured Continents Globe. They may be able to sing the Continents Song! But what about in the home?
"A globe is probably one of the most important pieces of material to have in the home. When a child has made lakes and rivers in the sand at the beach or in a sandbox, the parent can show him that the blue areas of the globe represent the water, the seas, and the other areas the land. This is enough to begin." - Susan Stephenson, Child of the World, Montessori, Global Education for Age 3-12+.
I have found that my children have learnt the continents first. For this reason, we have a Continents Globe at home. While singing the continents song or in every day discussions the children, especially my five-year-old can identify with his hands each continent. With our Continents Globe, the continents are slightly raised so the children can feel or trace the outlines with their fingers. We have a Political Globe that we use, mostly by my eight-year-old, when trying to locate a country or city. A globe rather than a map, a globe that we can wrap our hands around and feel the spherical nature of the earth, a globe where the child can form visual and sensory impressions that are held in the mind.
I also really love the Hugg-A-Planet, because you can put it on the kids' beds and they can wrap their arms around it and cuddle it, it's soft, squishy and snuggly. It's a fun way to learn about our planet. While I haven't seen it in person I love the look of the Earth Cross Section and we have used many materials to learn about the solar system (the inflatable planets are a favourite) the motorised solar system looks like fun too.
Sources: Land Water Globe / Continents Globe / Earth Cross Section / Political Globe / Solar System - Planets / Hugg-A-Planet Earth. (In Australia we have this Political Globe and Hugg-A-Planet). Free Printable World Map with Labelled Continents (in top picture) can be found here.