12 Simple and Creative Small World Play Ideas

12 Simple and Creative Small World Play Ideas

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Oh small world play. How do I love thee?
Let me count the ways.

I love small world play set-ups because:

  • they encourage imaginative, open-ended play
  • small world play is child-led
  • they are an excellent way for children to explore and experiment with different materials
  • small world play pairs beautifully with sensory play
  • children are able to process real life scenarios by reenacting them via small worlds
  • the opportunities to use and develop vocabulary are plentiful

Never set up small world play before?

Never fear! It is simple! Small worlds lend themselves to all themes, materials, and situations.
There is no right or wrong way to set up small world play. If you’d like to read more, Ann from Little Worlds Big Adventures is the Queen of small world play.

I generally start with a theme. It is usually inspired by a book.
We then collect materials from around the house. It’s fun to make this a collaborative effort with your little ones, giving them ownership of the process.
Then we set up our materials. Where you do this can vary. It might be in a plastic tub. In a sand play table. In a shoe box.
The most important (and best) step is saved for last. PLAY!

Need some ideas?

Thank you to Oskar’s Wooden Ark for gifting us a set of Grimm’s 12 Rainbow Friends

Farmyard small world

Farm small world

We set this small world up in our sand play table after being inspired by this book. We used two baskets to act as “fields.”
Farm-related toys were collected and our Grimm’s 12 Rainbow Friends from Oskar’s Wooden Ark were the “farmers.”
The children used plastic lids to symbolise seeds being planted.
We also used some coloured rice and popcorn kernels to add a sensory element to this small world.

A birthday small world

Birthday small world

Our small worlds often incorporate ways to reuse and recycle our art projects.
Birthdays and birthday parties are discussed here about eleventy billion times a day. So we channeled this energy into a small world and made the bunting from leftover watercolour paper. We used play dough for the cake. I love how small world play allows you to create a multi-step process that incorporates so many benefits- fine motor skills, creative arts…. you’re only limited by your imagination.

The thing I love most about this small world is that it was set within a box. So once play was finished, you simply shut the box and pack away and storage is simple!

Small world play involving kids' artwork and wooden dolls.

Neighbourhood small play

Another example of artworks being used in small world play.
What should be a 5 minute walk to the park takes us about 56 minutes as my kids insist on stopping at every.single.letterbox and having an in-depth discussion about the house number. Hello learning in context!
So we collaged some houses and simply stuck them onto a sheet of cardboard to create this small world that encouraged number recognition.
Our Grimm’s 12 Rainbow Friends from Oskar’s Wooden Ark walked around the neighbourhood, visiting different homes. It was so sweet hearing the stories that emerged about different houses and neighbours.

More ideas!

Create a small world for dinosaur-lovers

A railway small world contained within a suitcase

Or be inspired by The Craft Train and use a suitcase for another dinosaur alternative

Make a portable felt landscape in a DVD case

A fairy garden small world like this one from The Craft Train has been on my To-Do list for ages!
This fairy small world from the Make It Your Own family includes toadstools made from recyclables

Create a fish pond and gorgeous rock fish

My children would adore this stone quarry small world from Little Worlds, Big Adventures

This small world idea from Make It Your Own is so clever in the way it allows children to create trees that change with the season

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Small world play encourages imaginative, child-led, open-ended play. Small worlds lend themselves to all themes, materials, and situations. Here are 12 of our favourite simple and creative small world play ideas. #imaginativeplay #smallworldplay #playmatters

Ideas for Learning from Home During Coronavirus

Ideas for Learning from Home During Coronavirus

Found yourself suddenly thrust into the role of homeschooler thanks to Coronavirus? Looking for some simple and fun learning ideas for learning from home? Let me see what I can do for you.

So here’s the thing.
As a teacher, I don’t expect you to replicate the classroom in your home during these strange and confusing times. I would hope that you’re all just loving hard on your littles but it’s a weird one to balance, isn’t it? I’m ALL FOR giving kids the space to get bored. But I also find it useful to have some ideas to fall back on when my kids apparently lose all ability to think up an activity for themselves and are climbing up the walls.

Trying to maintain normalcy in times that are wack seems near-impossible. So don’t go too hard on yourself if your *lessons* don’t turn out as planned. The ideas for learning from home outlined from here are all open-ended. Don’t be rigid and go with the flow. You never know where it will take you.
Process not product, people!

To make things easier, click here for a printable A4 version of Teacher-Approved Ideas for Learning From Home. Stick it on the fridge!

Start a virtual book club with school mates

Okay if we try and be positive and look for some silver linings, imagine all the books our kids can enjoy during this time.
Missing friends and social isolation is a big worry for our little ones. Rally a group of schoolmates and meet up via FaceTime, Skype or Zoom and discuss the books that are being enjoyed at each home. You could structure each call with a guiding question like “Who was your favourite character and why?” “Tell us about your favourite part of the story.”

Maybe you could use my Book Scavenger Hunt (developed for Book Week a few years ago) as a way to thematically organise each call. For example, “This week we’re going to find all the books about Dinosaurs on our shelves. We will share our favourite Dinosaur book when we call each other.”

And for all those books you’re going to read, how about some of these awesome origami book marks from my friend Maggy at Red Ted Art?

Get out all the board games or design your own

Board games are a totally under-rated way for families to slow down and connect. They also give children a fab chance to practise turn-taking, winning and losing. Take an audit of the board games in the cupboard and pull one out every now and then.

We had so much fun designing these designing these Halloween board games. Designing a board game is such an excellent design and make experience for children.

Imaginative Play

Set up an imaginary restaurant. Holy moly all the writing practice a child will get playing a waiter or waitress! All that vocab development as you construct a menu. See how such a simple set-up is infused with authentic learning opportunities?

Choose a teddy and plan a birthday party for him or her. Write invitations. Plan the party food. Peruse catalogues or supermarket websites and write a shopping list. Calculate your budget. Create decorations. What parts of the syllabus have we covered here? Writing for different purposes and contexts. Letter-sound relationships. Reading for a purpose. Money. Number. Addition. Subtraction. Learning disguised as play? My favourite.

Play dough is always a winner here. Set up a bakery. Or make some tea party small worlds.

Here is a gorgeous invitation to create using nature from the backyard from The Art Garden.

Or how about a pretend play pet tank from the genius that is Amanda at barley and birch?

Design and Create an Indoor City

Cardboard boxes are the best. Set some out with some markers and challenge your child to create a city.
Like this pretend play pet tank from the genius that is Amanda at barley and birch?.

Maybe you could create a map of your home?

Just Add Water

This is one of my parenting mantras. When everybody seems to be residing in Cranky City or Tantrum Town, I offer a bath.
If I’m in dire straits, I add lavender oil to the bath water to calm the farm.
If you have cornflour and food colouring in the pantry, you could make bath paint.

Make bath time fun with this 3 ingredient bath paint for kidsAlternatively if the weather is nice, I send them into the backyard with some buckets of water.
They can wash the toy cars. Or wash the windows.

This egg carton floating whale from Amanda at barley and birch is one of my all-time favourite crafts.

Create Something Inspired by a Book

You know that teaming reading with creating is my jam, right?

Grab my free printable of how I set up a READ + CREATE experience with my kids.
If you sign up to my newsletter, you’ll receive a free guide filled with READ + CREATE ideas.

Here are some READ + CREATE ideas from my blog:

Read a book about monsters and make some salt dough monsters

Read a book about superheroes and make some capes

Follow my friend Julie on Instagram. She is an early years teacher in Wales who does amazing book-based art with her students.

I’m lucky to have so many creative lady friends.  Cara from hello, moonpie has gloriously colourful bookish art projects too.

Here’s a gorgeous book-inspired mixed media collage from my friend Lisa at The Art Garden. Or how about this whimsical salt dough nests?

Listen to podcasts

I predict I’m going to get very sick of hearing my own voice soon.

Podcasts are a great way to pour vocab and stories into the ears of your children.

Here in Australia, we love the podcasts on offer from ABC4Kids. (I’m not sure if my overseas friends can access these. Sorry!)

We also like the Big Life Kids poddy and the Brains On! Science podcast.

I’m looking forward to introducing my kids to David Walliams Marvellous Musical Podcast.

Write a letter to a friend

Write an old-fashioned letter to a friend. Take a few snaps of it and send it via the Interwebs for instant connection and easy writing practice. Or try your hand at some of these cool pop-up cards from Maggy at Red Ted Art?

Go on a virtual excursion

The borders of the world may be shutting down but the world is opening up virtually.

12 excellent museums are offering virtual visits.

Many zoos around the world offer live streams of certain enclosures.

The Royal Opera House is launching a free program of content for the culturally curious.

My friend Hana runs the Curious Wanderers Society– it’s chock-a-block filled with resources to explore the world from home.

Lastly, what do you do when the proverbial poo hits the fan?
Channel your inner Lady Gaga and “Just dance, gonna be okay.
Turn the music up and DANCE. (My husband attempted to introduce my kids to rave music this morning. They were not impressed.)
Here’s a super fun activity that teams music with painting.

And finally, you might need some ideas for crafting with paper loo rolls. Here’s 79 ideas for paper roll crafts from Maggy at Red Ted Art.

If you try any of these ideas for learning from home, let me know on social media! I’m @ohcreativeday on FB and Insta.