A new play experience has swept the internet. Early childhood blogs and Pinterest boards are littered with ideas for “small worlds”. Adorable sensory tubs and bins with miniature landscapes, little versions of the world around us, the modern doll house with a little sensory mixed in. I have never ventured into the realm of small world play for a couple of reasons.
First of all small world play goes against my core belief that sensory play should be big, messy, and full body as often as it can be. Using our whole bodies to experience a new material is therapeutic and truly a wonderful way to explore outside of our typical bounds. In all of my early childhood experience and training sensory tables have been reserved for pouring, scooping, dumping, and digging. Dramatic Play happens there, as it often does in every element of a classroom, but that is not the main purpose of a sensory table. From what I can see of small worlds, dramatic play is the primary goal and the pretend play is expanded upon with sensory materials.
The second reason that I have always steered clear of small world set-ups is because I personally don’t love engaging in pretend play. Not because I think it’s bad at all. I love watching a group of kids act out a story or a scenario that came from their own mind. But I have spent the past year and a half working with primarily under threes. Pretend play is a lot of work for the adult with this age group. I tend to guide the play and have to work hard to keep the story going and the kids engaged. It feels like it has been a long time since I have had the joy of playing a role in dramatic play that is determined by the kids.
The last reason that small worlds are intimidating to me is because I am absolutely a fly by the seat of my pants type of planner. I plan my week out, I usually even write it all down but my best received activities are ones that I come up with from looking at what I have and thinking about how it will work together. Small worlds take planning.
All of this being said. I decided to try one out. I needed to get over my own silly issues with this type of play in order to give my kiddos a chance to try something new and potentially really fun! While browsing through blogs this weekend I came across Building Blocks and Acorns post on their 3-in-1 Spring Sensory Tub. Very cute, and still very sensory oriented, I think that I need to work myself slowly into this small world thing. Luckily I found this before I had done my shopping for the week. I made a semi-plan and headed to the dollar tree.
Our bin is a little different. We have a really big bin so it took a lot of stuff to fill it. We used green rice, two different types of easter grass, cotton balls for bunny tails, and coffee grounds for some mud, because lets be honest it’s not springtime without mud. We added two birds nests made out of spanish moss, filled with sparkly little pink eggs. Little plastic easter eggs were perfect for filling with rice and other materials in the bin. The mud was contained with a few river rocks and small pots with a few fake flowers gave us the opportunity to do some planting of our own. I added a few bright pom poms and some whirly pipe cleaners for color. A couple of butterflies also graced our springtime garden. With the addition of spoons and tweezers we were ready.
E and I had a ton of fun setting this up Sunday night and he was very excited for his friends to come Monday morning so they could play! I prepped the kids before we dug in and let them know that we would have more fun if we kept the rice by the rice and the dirt in the garden and so on. I was still skeptical that this would last long, half expecting a big mess by 12:00. I was wrong 🙂
There was scooping and pouring with the rice and mud, counting and hiding of the eggs. The butterflies made homes in the nests and took care of the birds eggs while the momma birds were out gathering food. Etta even joined in on the fun, apparently fake flowers are delicious! We had a blast and played for most of the morning. Much to my surprise the scene looks relatively the same. I stepped away a few times and things continued to go smoothly! While this setup was different than what I would normally do for sensory play I am happy that I branched out. I will not abandon my love for big messy sensory experiences but I think that I may need to make room for a new type of play and embrace the small world craze. 🙂