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Five Food-Based Small Worlds to Try…

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Now that Zoey is 18 months old, we have introduced her to the wonderful world of small world play. Every week, we change up our theme – a lot of the time our small world’s involve food so here’s a run down of our favourites. If you’re at all unsure, please check out our separate post on small world FAQs.

Down on the Farm 

farm 2
Getting stuck in (literally) to her first ever small world

This was our first stab at small world play. We needed to renew interest in the Little People farmyard that Zoey was gifted for her 1st birthday – this proved just the ticket! If you’re ever frustrated because toys are left forgotten about just add a sensory element to them and voila, new toy!

For this set-up, we used red lentils, pasta nests, flax meal, cocoa powder and spinach. I wouldn’t recommend using fresh ingredients in small world set ups: soggy spinach meant we had to throw away our farmyard much sooner than I would’ve liked. Never mind, she did have fun feeding the animals with it!

As this was our first ever stab at small world play, I had zero expectations. If you’re reading this and haven’t yet tried out this kind of activity, it’s important to manage your expectations. Some kids will dive straight in, some will HATE the feel of the sensory ingredients and others will be completely disinterested. For Zoey’s part, she climbed straight in, made a mess of the kitchen floor, tipped the barn over and got her animals to eat some spinach. Can we call that a success? Well, yes. In fact, with each new small world we introduce, she becomes more engaged in play.  We’ve also done a farm themed small world play dough play session.

‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ 

bear hunt
The water we created was a happy accident: the blue food colouring tub spilled into the flour to create this beautiful, vibrant blue.

What do you get if you mix flour, flax meal, cocoa powder and blue food colouring together? Whilst the answer is definitely not a cake, we did have a lot of messy fun regardless! We used this small world as part of a themed week on the rather wonderful ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ – I’m pretty sure you’ve read it, right?

As mentioned above, we used a lot of leftover cakey ingredients for this small world. These were the leftover dregs from the back of cupboards – I mean who seriously uses golden flax meal? Not us, that’s for sure! To add an extra Bear Hunt element, we also used long grass, leaves and tree bark. The whole creation lasted us just over a week and we even reused it to look at habitats.

The primary reason for this small world, was to help Harrison re-tell the story in his own words. Being able to re-tell stories is an important part of comprehension so if your kiddo struggle with this, a play set up is a good option.

We’ve also done some ‘Bear Hunt’ sensory bottles which my little one finds fascinating!

‘On Safari’ 

on safari
Our Oh Ivy animals loved their new environment!

Dying rice is an early years staple. The possibilities for small world play are endless when you know how to colour rice. In the past, we have made rainbow trays for phonics hunts, a Valentine’s themed sensory bin and green grass for an Easter egg exploration (try saying that quickly!). If you want to find out more about these activities, click here. 

For our safari, we went a little ‘off recipe’ and used liquid watercolours instead of our regular food dye. No particularly special reason, except we’ve run out of most food colourings and my local Woolies definitely does not sell all the colours I wanted. But please, only use watercolours if you’re confident bub won’t try and eat the rice!

We used this activity as a follow up to a zoo visit (hello annual membership!) It was a good way to consolidate Zoey’s current knowledge – she learnt some new animal names and was able to show her understanding by pointing. She also tried saying some of the names. Have you ever heard an 18 month old trying to say ‘giraffe?’ It’s completely adorable!

Fairytale World with Froot Loops 

Rainbow sensory tray
This bright small world chased away the winter blues!

A while ago, we bought some Froot Loops with the grand intention of making some colourful art. However, after Harrison ended up eating some for breakfast (and hating them), they lay forgotten in the cupboard for weeks before we decided to do something about them. So when the grandparents sent Zoey a fairytale set from the HappyLand series (available from ELC in the UK), we decided to create a magical small world.

First off, the fun part: smashing up Froot Loops with a potato masher. I left this part up to Harrison who had an amazing time crushing and smashing away. For him, it was a pretty great workout too! Afterwards, we added our medium Grimms Rainbow along with the HappyLand characters.

froot loop smash
I’m going to re-brand this is an alternative to therapy!

For this activity, we concentrated on fine motor skills. Zoey made good use of her pincer grip by moving the characters around. We also added an extra element by using fine motor skills tools from Kidsstuff. She was able to scoop up the Froot Loops and collect the characters – all of this works her little hand and finger muscles so that she is eventually able to hold a pencil.

Aussie Outback 

Add some spades for a fine motor skills workout!

I created this super simple landscape for the kids after our trip to Alice Springs and Uluru (if you haven’t been yet, you must!) Whilst red lentils and plastic animals aren’t quite the same as the real thing, it did make for a lovely recap of our trip.

All you literally need is red lentils. Ours were languishing at the back a cupboard after my attempt to turn vegan last year. This couldn’t be quicker to do, so if you’re short on time, use up those lentils! Better still is the fact you can just scoop them up into a resealable bag ready for another activity. Ours have also featured as Jakku for May the Fourth. 

With Harrison we talked about the landscape of the ‘red centre,’ recapping on how the animals and plants thrived in such an environment. For Zoey, it was a great sensory experience as well as an opportunity to develop language skills.

I hope you’ve stayed with me during this blog post and that you’ll try out some of these activities. If you do, please comment below or tag me into your Instagram posts! It goes without saying that all of these activities need to be done under watchful supervision so please adapt activities according to the capabilities of your child. 

Sian Thomas

Sian Thomas

Sian is a trained teacher mama to three awesome children and wife to Greg. As a family of expats, they travel the world every couple of years for new adventures. Right now, they live in Vienna, Austria.

One thing Sian is super passionate about? Helping mums worldwide navigate the early years of parenthood.

You can join her on her brand new venture, This Playful Home, by visiting www.thisplayfulhome.com or clicking the email sign up button below!

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