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Bringing inspiration for child-led activity, our early childhood expert Lara Hudson has shared her thoughts on small world

Small world play is exactly what it says – practitioners creating a ‘small world’ for children to play with. It provides holistic
development opportunities for young children due to the diversity of ways in which it can be used, adapted and developed.


Safe play space.

It provides a safe play space that children can control and make choices over – allowing them to utilize the knowledge they
have of the world around them and apply it to a range of different situations, whether it is a familiar domestic environment or
a fantasy world.

How to create a ‘small world’ – Child-le

As an individual or as a group

Children can either engage in small world play as individuals or as groups. It gives them the opportunity to:


  • share

  • problem solve

  • develop ideas

  • devise roles

  • work through their own feelings

  • recognize the feelings of others.


Using a book to recreate a scene.

Small worlds can often recreate a scene from a book or allow the children to completely retell a favourite story. Through
imitation they are able to learn and experiment with what they have seen and heard – often trying out new vocabulary, ideas
and problem- solving techniques. Children can find new ways for the characters to behave or perhaps create a different
ending to the story. Small world has been referred to as ‘literacy in a kinaesthetic way’.


How to introduce to your nursery or setting.

When introducing ‘small world’ to your setting or indeed auditing your provision, it is important that your starting point is
looking at your current cohort of children:


  • What do they like and dislike?

  • What are they interested in?

  • What is the gender balance?

  • Do you have a good understanding of their abilities?

Consider drawing up a list that addresses these questions, and then use this list to plan for the types of small worlds you
would like to create – with all of the children in mind! If you are working with children that are old enough – consider
including them in this activity. What would they like to play with?

Things to consider using as a small world ‘platform’:
  • Tuff trays (if you cannot find/ afford these consider using under bed storage trays).

  • For younger children (toddlers) the YPPERLIG coffee table from Ikea makes a nice small world tray, is a god

  • recommendation for parents who would like to recreate this at home!

  • Old car tyres (but they need to be well cleaned) are often available for free from garages.

  • Plant pots.

  • Cable reels (these can often be picked up if you drive around Al Quoz – sometimes for free, or as little as 10AED each).


Natural materials

  • Dried moss (currently available in the garden section of Ikea).

  • Rocks and pebbles.

  • Sand or soil.

  • Aquarium gravel (available from pet shops).

  • Fabric and scarves – try to find a variety of patterns and textures – as these make lovely base layers for the small world.

  • Small boxes – these can be covered with fabric to vary the heights within the small world.

  • Tree branches, bark and twigs.

  • Dried pasta, pulses and breakfast cereal – ensuring that the size is age and stage appropriate. Also check your settings’

  • policy on sing food for play.

  • Small artificial plants.

  • Fir cones – sometimes these are available in Daiso.

  • Astro turf.


Remember, as an adult it is your role to purposefully create the small world – but you are not leading the play. You can extend
the play through posing open-ended questions that encourage the children to think critically and creatively. Take time to
observe what is taking place, and only get involved if what you will do will enhance the learning that is happening!

Every time a child engages in small world play they get a very different experience – make it worthwhile and memorable!

About the author.

Lara Hudson is is currently a Director for CreaKids. She is an experienced leader in the education sector, who has worked in
Dubai since 2004 as both a KG2 teacher and then a Nursery Director. More recently she has led two of the UAE’s largest
training companies and written a range of courses for awarding organisations.

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