I can not wait to share my small world play enthusiasm with you all. Today I’ll talk you through the basics: what exactly is small world play, why we want to provide these experiences for our children and how we can make it happen in our own home. I hope that when you’ve finished reading this you’ll want to start creating right away. Enjoy!
So, what exactly is Small World Play?
Small world play is acting out scenarios (scenes from real life, stories and/or imagination) in a miniature play scene, created with small figures and objects. Anything from your own home or garden will do, there is no limitation to your creativity which is why it’s a truly inexhaustible subject!
Small worlds are often set up in a certain theme (farms, construction area, pirates at sea, dinosaur world, … you name it) that are relevant and meaningful to the child at the time and they usually include a sensory element (water, sand, dry pasta, leaves, …) which adds more layers to the play.
Small World Play and Child Development
As with any kind of play, there are numerous ways in which small world play supports your child in it’s development. Just because you’re curious, I’ll quickly talk you through a few:
By providing children with opportunities to re-enact certain experiences, you are helping then to reflect on feelings and events in life in a safe way. While engaged in small world play, children can explore and experiment with different emotions and act out these scenes in their play.
Developing Personal and Social Skills
Small world play invites children to be creative, and boosts confidence when children are able to experiment with different (both new and familiar) materials and build something they think is awesome. It is also an excellent way to practice social skills (when for instance building a small world on a play date) where children can connect with each other and learn to take turns, listen to someone else’s ideas, compromise and so on.
Reasoning, Problem Solving and Numeracy
There are always many problems to solve in small worlds (“Not all the dinosaurs fit in my cave!”) and children learn how to work through these by reasoning and experimenting. Small world play helps to develop numeracy by giving lots of opportunities for grouping or sorting items and counting them (“How may small dinosaurs do you have? How many do go in your cave?” “Now, how many are left?”)
Small world play is great for building language because it allows children to practice their language in a meaningful context. While playing, children are vocalising and learning about nouns, verbs, adjectives and prepositions and so on (“parking the red truck next to the yellow tractor”).
Understanding the World
Through small world play children get to learn about cause and effect while experimenting and manipulating different items (“letting a car go down a slope will make it go faster”). Children also get the chance to explore certain ideas in the world, like how a hospital would operate differently from a police station or a school and why.
Getting Started with Small World Play
Children as young as 2,5 years old can engage in (simple) small world play and start telling their own stories. Keep an eye out for symbolic play that starts to emerge (when they can pretend a crayon for example is an aeroplane) and parallel to that language that starts to develop. And you’ll be ready to go!
Here’s what’s next:
- Decide on your theme. Choose a subject for your small world that the child has experience or at least an interest in. (For a first small world animals are often a safe bet as most children have some knowledge of or interest in them or you could try and act out a favourite story like ‘Going on a Bear Hunt’).
- Collect your materials. Be inspired by what you have in your toy box, in your kitchen, garden or anywhere else within reach. Part of the fun of small world play is setting the scene! Children love to be involved in creating small worlds and like to hunt for items they might want to use. Remember that you can add elements of sensory play too (like sand, water, play-dough, straw, uncooked rice, rocks, …) and that you might (will!) need a box or tray of some sort to contain your items.
- Set the scene. The younger the children are, the more simple you want to keep your small world (with maybe one element of sensory play and using items they can easily manipulate themselves). It’s easy for little ones to be distracted or overstimulated. Less is more in this case. The older children are, the more elaborate small worlds can become.
If you are both new at this you can start simple. If you’ve built a farm scene for instance, you can start by feeding the animals, cleaning the barns, let the farmer check up on them etc. You can use simple actions and simple words (go on, make some animal sounds!). I’m sure children will join in fairly soon and you can play alongside each other for a while mirroring his (her) actions and following his lead (if he wants the cows to go to sleep: night time it is!) until they are ready to play on their own.
It’s good to keep in mind that all children are different. Some children only need a little help getting started and will be completely absorbed by their little worlds for a while. Others rather not play alone or lose interest quickly. That’s all ok. Don’t be discouraged (after all the effort of setting up this amazing small world!), you can leave it out for a couple of days and chances are they’ll want to revisit soon.
In general: as the child grows their play will evolve, become more abstract (being able to play out scenes they are not necessarily familiar with) and the play will become predominantly child-led. (Milestone!)
If you’d like some inspiration before getting started, you might want to have a look at some awesome small worlds I’ve made here. And there’s always my Small Worlds Pinterest board where you can have a look at amazing small world set ups from other bloggers.
I hope this beginner’s guide to small world play set you up to take off on your own big adventures. Let me know how it went!
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