Small world play fuels the imagination. For both children, and parents. When I start to think about a world I want to create for Q I start by asking myself these questions, what inspires me, what brings me joy, and what can I share with Q? This post I dive deep into small world play, how to get started, why we do it, what are the benefits, and why you should give it a try! This post includes affiliate links.
Q has recently become very interested in animals and I’ve been running with that. He is currently 2 1/2 (and no I don’t know where the time went!) and I have been most excited about this shift of interest in play for Q where he’s interested in telling stories and animating the play with me.
Always supervise sensory play directly next to your little ones, especially under 3yo. Please use your best judgement with your own kids and avoid choking hazards while kids are still mouthing. I have a post all about taste safe fillers here, and will share taste safe tips throughout.
How To Get Started with Small World Play
Water. Yes- that simple. We started small world play with water worlds, Q was constantly asking for a beach which I started to make him of ground up cereal and water. It was taste safe and that easy. He would add his own toys into the play and we’d make up stories and he’d just play.
I highly recommend starting with one material trays, then move to two, and so on. Small World Play at its simplest is a sensory element and a prop. I started small world play with Q when he was 17 months old, and months past every trying to mouth anything. I would start with one tray of dried lentils and some small pots as a gardening tray. Here are some great starter tray Ideas:
Starter Small World Play Tray Ideas
- Ground Cereal + Water with food coloring beach
- Moon Sand + Water with food coloring beach
- Corn flake construction site – add cornflake to a tray and add trucks
- Lentil or Bean Garden – add lentils to a tray with scoops and small pots to “plant”
- Water In a tray with seashells
- Kinetic Sand in a tray with themed toys
- Dyed rice in a tray with themed toys – set up a galaxy with dyed black rice and stars
- Play Dough spread on a tray with themed toys
- Sand play dough and pasta coral reef
- Construction Site with Beans and Kinetic Sand
Materials For Small World Play
I can’t tell you how much nature I used and still use in our small world play. You can look around your kitchen and take to the outdoors to find great materials for small world play. Here are some of my favorite resources I like to have on hand:
There Are So Many Benefits to Small World Play
- Language Development
- Promotes Imaginative Play
- Promotes Independent Play
- Sensory Benefits
- Fine Motor Skills
- Learning Through Play
Recently Q’s expressive language has exploded, he’s 2.5. Small world play encourages language development and allows us to learn through the play. We talk about the various animals, their colors, the sounds they make, the habitats, and he adds them into the small worlds and feeds them and has his own stories for them. Which blends right into imaginative play. Together we create worlds for him to dive into and explore. When he was younger and would nap I would set up worlds while he slept for us to dive into together in the afternoons.
Having a small world play tray for Q out promotes independent play. While I’m sitting directly next to him or in the same room supervising I’m able to answer some emails and have some tea. These trays are as much a benefit to me as they are to him.
Small World Play Is As Much a Benefit to Me as it is to Him
Small Word Play gives me a moment to work, or a few moments at that. Finding moments to world while home with Q 24/7 through the pandemic that isn’t screen time has been challenging. It’s all about striking a balance and these trays give us just that!
It’s been most fun to see Q’s fine motor skills develop last summer he would “use” a tong by stabbing with it and this spring he uses it with purpose.
These trays provide endless ways to learn through play. I’m able to connect with Q through play, teach him about the world that I wish we could travel, talk to him about art. Often we create the resources for the trays together.
You Can Reuse All Your Materials
I reuse just about everything. Unless it’s that messy and it just gets completely destroyed! How I store things:
- Play Dough – Ziplock containers and bags, lasts 6-12 months
- Air Dry Clay – Air tight container, lasts 2-3 days
- Dyed Pasta – Zip Lock Bags
- Dyed Rice – Zip Lock Bags
- Moon Dough – Zip Lock Bag
Pull Inspiration From The Real World, or Books!
They way we would play when Q was younger is I would tell him the stories through story stones and places that matched the books he loved.
Acting out stories are a great way to start out with sensory play.!
Small World Play Theme Ideas
- Land, Sea, and Air
Ideas are Endless!
- Coral Reef
Small World Play has Endless Options
Remember to bring ideas to the table not expectations. Q only recently started exploding with imaginative play and “acting out” with his toys. I like to set the scene with Q’s help, toddlers love to be involved from the start!
Don’t forget that less is more for younger children, there will be plenty of time for more elaborate play opportunities as they get older. When Q was younger the play was more about just exploring the sensory base and enjoying me story telling.
Small world sensory play has been a daily exposure for Q for well over a year and we have so much fun with it, that’s right – WE.
I started this page to show parents they can have as much fun with sensory play as kids do and it provides as many benefits to us as it does to them. It’s a wonderful artistic outlet for us caregivers.