Eden (3) LOVES small world play of every description. Not a single day passes without her playing with Tinkerbell figurines, or Strawberry Shortcake figurines, or Barbies, or Polly Pockets, and it's hard to explain how excited she gets when she enters a room to find a playscene waiting for her. Put it this way: she vibrates with excitement. No joke.
Most of our playscenes centre on characters such as Fairy Land, little Dolls at home, or an Arctic sensory tub, so a prehistoric dinosaur playscene was something of a departure from the norm for us. Eden had just 'won' a packet of dinosaurs (from our reward system) and she did not know what to do with them. Her first impulse was to make them 'doggies' for her Barbies! So, I created this Prehistoric playscene for her as an introduction to the world of dinosaurs.
It gave me the opportunity to introduce new vocabulary** to her: words like 'volcano', 'prehistoric', 'carnivore', which had never before cropped up in conversation (I wonder why!), and of course the dinosaur names. Actually, when it came to talking about the dinosaurs names, I realised how woeful my knowledge of them was! “That's a Brontosauraus, and there's the Raptor, and next to him is the... uh, Green-and-small-o-saurus...” Time for a trip to the library , so we can learn them together, methinks.
Her playscene was comprised of a thin layer of play sand as the base in a foil baking tray, covered with some pebbles and river stones. I used some tree bark at the back as a screen, scattered some leaves gathered from our walks and some gumnuts in there, along with a bit of water in a shallow container. I found a little tree and rock-type-thing from another play collection, and made a volcano and a palm tree.
The palm tree was simply a toilet roll with four slits cut in the top, and some green construction paper shaped like leaves slotted in there. The volcano was a paper cup with crumpled brown and red paper stuck over it. Cinch!
Eden thought that the dinosaurs looked a bit dirty after playing in the sand, so she decided to give them all a bath. She said she was being a responsible dinosaur Mummy. Well sure!
Eden loved playing with this playscene, but I found she wanted me to direct her play a little bit, where normally she would dismiss me. I assume that was because dinosaurs were unfamiliar, and it will probably be business as usual next time round.
To adapt this type of play for younger children, use a larger container and fewer details. Also be mindful of safety – if they are likely to put everything in their mouths then choose items accordingly.
Why Small World Play?
This type of play offers little ones the chance to be 'in control' of an environment, to set up scenarios and to work through concepts which they may be grappling to understand (like conflict resolution, sickness, teamwork, etc). Children begin to develop their own stories and to narrate their play as it happens, which is fantastic for developing their creative thinking.
Small world play also enables children to use problem-solving skills. If she decides a fairy needs to fly but has broken her wing, a matchbox suddenly becomes a plane. Or if he says that a dinosaur needs to cross the river, an icy-pole stick makes a perfect bridge.
These scenes are generally so simple and quick to set up, why not give it a try with your kids?
Thanks for reading! ~ L.
**A note on introducing new vocabulary: I am a big believer in using proper vocabulary in different situations, and I do not 'dumb it down' for my kids. Of course I try to keep explanations age-appropriate, but if you use technical terms for some things, you'll be surprised at how much your child retains. Eden often uses 'big words' like “blustery”, “encouragement” and “talented”, and some of the technical terms which slip in every so often are “lens [of a camera]”, “mammals”, “nocturnal” and “deciduous [as in plants, but she says 'deci-doo-ous']”. The key is to use the terms correctly, give brief and simple explanations when requested, and otherwise to have no expectations on your child. Do not test them to see if they remember the correct terms – you want to give them the opportunity to learn if they want to, you're not actively trying to teach them new vocab.