I love creating small worlds for my son and my home daycare kids. I often put them together after my son has gone to bed so that he can discover them in the morning. Although it’s fun for him to be surprised with a little play scene I wanted to give him and the little ones in my care the opportunity to create their own small world.
I recently read a fantastic post from Stephanie at Twodaloo about building language with small world play. In addition to reminding me of the benefits of children having a hand in the creation of small worlds, the post also reminded me that with young children it is often best to base small worlds on settings and experiences familiar to them. With those considerations in mind I gathered items for a simple forest small world based on the type of forest found in our part of the country.
I dug two deer (a buck and a fawn) out of our toy bins and rounded up objects from our nature collection. Adding sticks, rocks, pinecones, and pine needles to this forest small world gave it the touch of realism it needed and also made it pleasing to the senses.
Unfortunately I don’t have many pictures of the kids interacting with our little forest so I’ll do my best to explain how they played. I presented them with the tray, which held the deer and some brown play dough, and a wooden bowl, which contained our natural materials. I also gave them several plastic “trees” which I pulled out of a topiary ball I got from the dollar store and that we used in our Spring Sensory Bin.
Their first course of action was to stick all the small objects into the play dough. Pushing things into play dough is always a satisfying tactile activity for toddlers and preschoolers. I made our mud play dough by adding cocoa powder to my go-to recipe from playdoughrecipe.com.
Then there was lots of talk of the “Daddy” deer and the “baby” deer being stuck in the mud. Getting stuck in the mud is a popular theme around here and the kids often pretend to fall into imaginary patches of mud and then hose each other off with things like paper towel tubes or my son’s toy screw driver.
I gave them a little person toy and my son made up a short story about him walking in the woods. I pointed out that the little boy had to walk carefully over sticks and rocks and around trees just like we do when we’re playing in the woods.
Our little friend (age 2.5) was concerned about the mud sticking to the fawn’s hooves and she attempted to clean him up by scraping the play dough off with a stick. I thought this was a smart solution!