How to Encourage Small World Play


As a brand ambassador for Better Beginnings, I am being compensated for this post, but all thoughts are my own.

Do your kids engage in small world play? What I mean by that is any kind of pretend play that uses little animals or people set up in an environment where your child’s imagination and story telling skills dictate what’s happening.

It can be really small scale, such as a bin full of beans and animals or trucks to play in the landscape, or it can be as big as the cardboard block, animal and pirate ship construction that took over my living room recently. Encouraging small world play among kids, and ideas to try

Benefits of Small World Play

Playing in this way is a great way for kids to express themselves, develop and use language, work through emotions or situations that are happening in real life, practice social skills and empathy depending on the story that’s happening, develop problem solving skills, understand cause and effect and learn to play independently, among other things.

The best small world scenes that have happened in our house haven’t been guided by me at all, other than providing the materials and possibly suggesting an addition or posing a “what might happen if?” question.

Another great thing about small world play is that you probably already have a lot of what you need to get started. If you have a small collection of animals or people, some blocks or cardboard boxes or vehicles for the creatures to interact with, maybe a sensory material like beans, rice or sand, you’ve got everything you need to set up small world play with your child.

How to Start Small World Play

As I said, the best small world scenarios have come from the girl, but I sometimes make materials available that I think will encourage her play. small world ocean play

Over Thanksgiving break we bought a set of ocean creatures that came with a boat, a pirate, a treasure chest and a mermaid. I found her a blue sheet to be the ocean and we filled a cardboard box with beans to be the desert island (complete with palm trees drawn on the sides) where the treasure was buried.

She played happily with it, all alone while I did some work, for a good long time. She even went and got some little people from a different play set to be sailors on the ship.

castle small world play
Adding to the scene. I don’t know why she had a scarf tied on like a belt.

Over Christmas we were getting ready to host a play date and I’d brought her big box of cardboard blocks downstairs and moved the coffee table from the middle of the living room. She quickly built a castle protected by animals from the pirate who was coming to kidnap the mermaid. I think.

The “small” construction took over the living room and kept her from being antsy waiting for friends.

Other Small World Ideas

You can set up a small world kit of sorts with some animals and blocks (I love the tree blocks for this purpose). Include a sheet, piece of fabric or felt to be the ground if you want (or cut out some blue felt to make a pond or an ocean). You can draw out streets on a piece of poster board to use with town blocks, or if you have a white portable changing mat you don’t use any more, you can draw out scenes on it with dry erase markers (thanks Teach Me Mommy for that brilliant idea).

Make a fairy garden, or play school with the help of a toy school bus and children.

There are all sorts of small world ideas just waiting in your house.

If you need more ideas I found this great small world play board on Pinterest, or check out the amazing list of links on small world play, its benefits and ways to set up scenes for your kids from Childhood 101. And check out the PDF 10 Things to Know about Play from the Better Beginnings website for more about the importance of play for little ones.

How do your kids enjoy small world play? I’d love to hear your ideas.

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2 Comments

  1. Rhonda

    I love the ocean creatures idea! Small world play is a little like setting up centers in a classroom, I think. When I set out something new for my boys to play with (usually something that’s been put away for a while), it seems to give them renewed interest and creativity.

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