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The benefits of small world play

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The benefits of small world play

By Sheila O’Reilly

Small world play is a favourite with my girls.  It is a wonderful way to let young children act out real life scenarios and also use their imaginations to create fantasy worlds.  There are many benefits to children's learning and development through small world play and it is an important component of play in early years settings.

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Some of the benefits include:

* It encourages oral language development and helps children become storytellers.  Depending on the theme, children can encounter new vocabulary and practice using it in context. They often also develop positional language, as they move characters and describe where they are etc.
* Children develop imagination through creating different settings.
* Children develop empathy and become more aware of other people's feelings and emotions when they become assume different  character roles.
* When playing with others, they become aware of cooperative play, thus developing their social skills.
* It is a safe space to reenact events from their own experiences, as well as explore new ideas, which helps to develop self-confidence.
* Small world play encourages independent play.  My girls enjoy playing together, but often become absorbed in their own small world set ups, which can keep them busy for quite a while!
* There are lots of opportunities to develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills through small world play- For example, building a house big enough to fit figures or changing scenarios and thinking of new ways to extend their play.

Setting up a small world invitation

Both my girls took an interest in small world set ups when they were two years old.  I began with simple set ups using some of their favourite stories including Dear Zoo and The Gruffalo
I used a mix of their toys, sensory materials such as coloured rice/ pasta, play silks and sometimes DIY creations with cardboard boxes! It is also beneficial to include natural resources such as leaves, flowers, nuts.  It encourages children to develop and use their senses in their play- smelling, touching and perhaps tasting with little ones (crushed digestive biscuits make a great play base!)  Other great bases for small world include coloured water, sand, play dough, pebbles and clay.  During lockdown our base was often grass as we set up small worlds in the garden! 

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Depending on the theme, I include a variety of figures such as wooden animals, peg dolls, mini doll figures and vehicles.  For loose parts, I use a variety of natural resources including flowers,shells, leaves, nuts and open-ended construction resources including building blocks and Tickit Education architect sets and panels.

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I still use their favourite stories and books as stimulus for small world imaginative play and it has really enhanced my seven year old’s storytelling skills.  I have introduced the key elements of narrative writing through small world play- teaching her about story plots, settings, characters, creating atmosphere etc. I encourage her problem-solving and creative thinking by setting challenges such as retelling stories through small world but changing character roles or changing  story endings.

I hope you have found this blog useful. Check out #wpdplayideas and #wpdbookishplay on Instagram for lots of Small world play inspiration. There are also lots of toys and resources available at The Wooden Play Den to support setting up small world play scenes. Visit our Small World Play section on the website to browse. 

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