Small World – Big Play!

"Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it, we go nowhere." - Carl Saigan

A child's imagination is a wonderful thing, and by providing children with resources and opportunities to let their imagination grow, aids in all areas of development from a young age. Exploring and experimenting with small world play can help with their emotional development, reasoning and problem solving, social skills, language and of course understanding the world around them.

The best thing about imaginative play, is that children don't need expensive toys or fancy resources, in fact, we can find some of the best resources in everyday household objects, and from them, create the most magical play scenes. All children need...is a little bit of imagination!

So where do we start in creating a Small World?

Select a theme! 

It might be a theme that your child is most interested in, or perhaps one that you'd both like to explore together, and make into a learning experience. Perhaps you might even center it around the resources you have available, building blocks for towers, a basket of nature for your woodland scene, rocks for your space exploration, or some wooden spoons for pretend baking.

Base Time! 

Next, a base! My little girl loves all things sensory so I like to use sensory bases or textures in our small world play. You can use rice, lentils, chickpeas, split peas, beans, cereal, so many of our dry pantry food items are perfect for those sensory textures and of course, you can dye them a myriad of colors. All super easy to dye, but I find rice to be the easiest and the colours dry out so vibrant! Just pop a cup of your favourite sensory base in a ziploc bag, add a teaspoon of white vinegar and a few drops of food dye (to your desired shade) and spread the base out in a thin layer on baking paper to dry for at least 12 hours. You can even use any materials you have lying around or a scarf to set the scene and amplify their play.

Small world characters! 

Next look for items that might come in handy as characters for each of your small worlds and get crafty with them! Pegs and corks can make for the perfect little people, and you can make almost anything of cardboard and a bit of paint. A few random bits and pieces together with their imagination can make the most wonderful play, I remember the hours I spent constructing an entire dolls house out of cardboard and matchboxes for my tiny dolls... a treasured memory almost 20 years later. Combine all your wonderful materials to make the perfect small world play, I find a tray is always the easiest way to contain it, if you are dealing with sensory bases, otherwise, a mat will work perfectly.

Now, let’s dive into some play scenes that you could easily make out of household materials!

Magical Kingdom 

A tray of rainbow rice or rainbow scarves laid out on a mat, and a tower of blocks fit for any king or queen! Make a moat around the castle of blue rice and add in some little peg people. Further extend this play experience by encouraging your child to get crafty and make their own 'Royal Crown' with cardboard, sequins, paints etc.

Deep in the Jungle 

Go for a walk amongst nature collecting your favourite natural loose parts and some branches and leaves that will serve as your small world jungle. Make a green rice base, pop in some of your painted animal rocks and use these as learning experience to talk about the animals and their different habitats in our world. To further extend this play, why not paint a jungle backdrop with your child on cardboard or an old shoe box to use in future play experiences.

Build a Village 

This one is bound to keep the creativity flowing and the kids entertained for quite some time (we can hope), with the creation of a little village or township. You could provide matchboxes, corks, blocks, pegs, cardboard and any other useful bits and pieces, a bit of paint and get the kids building their own little town. Painting a cardboard city backdrop would also set the scene for some great small world play...and get that creativity flowing.

Start those Engines 

Make a racetrack on a play mat or the floor using masking tape and construct some little cars by painting or decorating some matchboxes, cutting out little round cardboard wheels and gluing them on. Sure, it might not wheel like a real toy car, but bonus fun in customizing their own little cars. Then, Ready, Set, Go!

Under the Sea 

Pop a layer of blue sensory rice in a tray and any shells, driftwood, or coral you might have picked on former beach walks. Next, get the children drawing their own little sea life: fish, dolphin, shark, sting-a-rays on some cardboard and cut it out to use in the tray. Why not make a little boat out of paper to sail the seas - I'm sure we all remember how to make these from our own childhood!

A child's imagination is a wonderful thing, and truly shows that play can be created from almost anything! A few bits and pieces dug out of cupboard might not seem like much to you, but to a child, it can be created into infinite play. Giving our children the opportunity to use their imagination fosters that wonderful creativity, just watch them play and flourish!

About the Author 

Kristiaan lives in Melbourne, Australia with her Fiancé and 23 month old daughter, Adelie. Having worked with children in both London and Australia, and now with a daughter of her own, her days are filled with play, nature walks and writing blogs of Motherhood and Play at www.bohoandcub.com. She hopes to inspire parents with her play set-ups and share her journey as a Mumma, with a dream to eventually live by the beach in far north QLD, working in the Education sector, while continuing her love of blogging.

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