Whether animals represent environmental geometry in a global and/or local way has been the subject of recent debate. We applied a transfer of search paradigm between rectangular- and kite-shaped arenas to examine the performance of human adults (using virtual environments) and children of 2.5–3.5 years (using real arenas). Adults showed robust transfer to a congruent corner in a kite-shaped arena, following training in a rectangular-shaped arena in two paradigms modeled on those used with rats and young children respectively. In contrast, the children showed no evidence of transfer of search, despite above chance performance in the rectangular arena, and above chance performance in a study where search occurred in the kite arena only. The pattern of findings suggests global aspects of environmental geometry may be used to re-establish heading, and that the matching of elements of local geometry in new global contexts may be an advanced developmental achievement. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Dev Psychobiol 56: 421–434, 2014.