The other day both my children were out of the house and I decided to set up a dinosaur small world for them to explore when they’d come home.
I really like setting up small worlds. Small world play is great for so many reasons. It nurtures the imagination, encourages creativity and provides children the opportunity to re-live and process different experiences in their lives.
These child led moments of exploring different scenarios through play are so valuable for your child’s development. Some children can play with their small worlds for hours!
But once in a while, mommy likes to play too.
I love, love, LOVE setting up small worlds. I can get totally carried away in hunting for specific materials and working out the details.
Once in a while I love being the child and indulge in some quality child led play.
And the outcome is fabulous: a happy mommy and a fabulous invitation to play. We’ve just set ourselves up for an afternoon of win!
Let me talk you through my small world set up routine. Yes, that’s right, I have a routine!
Setting up a Dinosaur Small World
I usually start by laying out the foundation, the ‘ground’. In this case I was looking for something that would look like grass or a forest floor. Our green fluffy blanket seemed perfect.
The foundation for a small world can be anything: a sandpit, water tub, blankets, table, … whatever you can think of.
Once I’ve figured out my foundation, I can start building some ‘landmarks’. I’ve learned that small worlds are a lot more interesting when there are places to hide under, climb on, swim in and so on.
I took a book with a hard cover that I could turn into a cave, a basket that would become a volcano and a few bowls to mimic some kind of mountain landscape.
When my landmarks are in place I start dressing them up. One of my favourite loose parts materials to use is fabric scraps.
Yellow, orange and reds for the volcano, greens for the many trees, shrubs and meadows in the jungle, blues for the river and browns for the rocky mountains and possible pathways.
The third layer I added to my dinosaur small world is one of nature elements. I go outside and collect stones, sticks, leaves, pine cones and all sorts of interesting and seasonal items.
I also have a big collection of drift wood, seashells and special rocks (like pumice and rocks we picked up from when we climbed an actual volcano!)
Adding nature elements to your small worlds makes them so much more real and adds this amazing sensory aspect to the play scene.
Sometimes at the end I add a few bits and pieces as special accents to a small world. This time I put some glass gems in the river and left it at that. Other days or other small world themes this is where I go overboard. (Check out the details in my Small World Zoo!)
You’ll probably feel for yourself if a scene is finished or if it could need some more. And if you’re not sure, ask your children, they’ll know!
And when you’re ready you can move in the dinosaurs!
My children’s eyes almost popped out of their little heads when they walked into our living room. “The dinosaurs are alive!!!”, my 4,5 year old daughter shouted.
And they started exploring, touching everything, moving things around and having little conversations with the dinosaurs.
Presenting a small world invitation to play to both my 4,5 year old daughter and almost 2 year old son can be a bit risky. My daughter will usually act out little stories while my son plays in a more physical way. That doesn’t always work well together!
But we were very lucky that day, it only took him half an hour before he climbed onto the table, banished all dinosaurs to the other side of the living room and sat himself down on top of the volcano. Toddlers!!
Later on that day my daughter found some time to play with the dinosaur small world by herself and this is the scene I walked into:
One dinosaur had hurt his tail and was resting a bit. The ‘T-rexes’ were fishing. The volcano had exploded. The gems were hidden so no-one could steal the treasure. Some new trees were planted. Pine cones had been collected for tea. And the other dinosaurs were now all taking a nap.
I love observing her play!
Making your own Dinosaur Small World
Making a small world is a very easy and simple activity that can be done anywhere and with just about anything. The scenes don’t always have to be well worked out with lots of detail. Sometimes less is more and the more simple your small world is, the more children will have the space to draw on their own imagination.
Having said that, older children (and adults!) will really enjoy going into detail when creating their small world. And like Lego, the setting up is a big part of the learning experience.
Keep in mind that smaller children might need some scaffolding when playing with their small worlds. You can sit next to them and help them along by acting out some simple scenes and joining in with their play while being mindful to let them lead the way. Soon enough they’ll be on their way to playing more independently!
And the dinosaur fans will love this dino jump & wash activity!
By the way, have a look at the little video we made about setting up this dinosaur small world. Pretty cool right?
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