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  • Writer's pictureVicki Manning

Real grass small world play

You may have heard someone mention small world play and wonder what it means. Search for it on Pinterest and you'll get thousands of results.

Small world play is just a fancy term for playing with miniature toys of real life objects or people. Through small world play children act out everyday scenarios and use their imaginations to make sense of the world around them.

At its most basic level, small world play is playing with a doll or a toy car, but there are so many ways you can extend your child's play by adding to it. From fairy gardens, to cardboard airports, miniature farms to construction pits, the only limit is your imagination!

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But the good news is that small world play doesn't have to be complicated and you don't have to spend hours preparing materials for it. Sometimes just a handful of things to prompt your child's imagination is enough.

Today is an example of that - I set up the most simple invitation to play using just some freshly cut grass from the garden and some animals.

The animals that we have are made by Schleich. They are my favourite brand as they are made from really solid plastic, are totally realistic and beautifully hand-painted.

To make our little small world invitation, I just popped into the garden and cut some grass (currently a bit on the long side!) and put it in a tray with our Schleich giant tortoise, tiger, lion and leopard. It was a bit like a savannah in Africa!

Mr 2 saw me cutting the grass and was desperate to help, so I let him have a little bit of scissor practice first. When we put the grass in the tray it made the room smell of that lovely, freshly mowed lawn scent and he couldn't wait to get stuck in!

Mr 2 started making the animals jump up and down on the grass. I think this was his way of showing excitement - he has speech delay so often expresses himself non-verbally like this.

He then ran to our box of animals and got out his favourite, the pig, and started feeding him the grass, making his version of 'num num' noises. We saw some pigs on a farm the other day, so this was Mr 2 acting out a real life experience and making sense of the world around him.

Mr 6 came and joined in. He looks a bit moody in this picture but he was really enjoying himself, it's just his concentration face!

He decided to add a lizard to the tray and said to me "Mister tortoise, lizard and tiger are friends and setting up a home. Do tigers live in caves?" Erm no, but it was a great opportunity to talk about animal habitats! Small world play is brilliant for encouraging narrative and conversation.

He then started asking me what tigers normally eat. We talked about some of the things they hunt, he then decided that his tiger wanted to eat lizard, so he gave lizard some animal "friends that will stop him being eaten".

This is one of the things I love about small world play, not only is it tonnes of fun, but there are loads of opportunities for learning and development, for example:

  • Communication - describing objects, narrating play and asking questions

  • Independence - directing their own play without relying on an adult

  • Fine motor skills - handling and manipulating small objects, improving co-ordination

  • Imagination - creating stories, scenarios and characters

  • Cause and effect - experimenting with gravity, material properties, volume etc.

  • Co-operative play - sharing and compromising when playing alongside others

  • Exploring emotions - expressing feelings and acting out concerns through toys

When the boys had finished playing with this, they took the animals outside and I threw the grass away. That's the sort of clear-up I like! 😂

Do you like small world play in your house?

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Hi, I'm Vicki, I'm an author and mum to three energetic boys who love learning in a playful and creative way! For more play ideas, creative fun and crafts, visit us at:



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