The benefits of small world play at pre-school
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The benefits of small world play at pre-school

12 September 2019 By Helen Dowling - Montague Pre-School

Small World

When asked to write about small world play it was a really good opportunity for us to ask ourselves: Why do we include it in our resources/play? Is it because it ticks a box? Is it because the children like it? Is it because it is included on the EYFS?

After much discussion, we concluded that there are many reasons why we include small world in our planning; using imagination, building language skills, independent play and problem solving to name but a few. As practitioners, we all know that these are core to the ‘Characteristics of Effective Learning’ and the EYFS.


To set the scene, we are a pack-away pre-school based in a church hall, with a large open space for the children to access. We have a small outdoor area which is free-flow. Small world is placed at the centre of our space and usually ends up overflowing into the other areas of play, which shows its versatility. We often find small play resources in the playdoh, on the trampoline or tucked into a handbag.


We use small world outside and in the lovely weather we have had this summer, small world has been taken outdoors everyday amongst the plants and flowers that we grow for the children to play calmly in the shade so that they don’t overheat! We set out the resources in an inviting way and the children usually head to them first over anything else we have out.


We discussed two main categories of small world. There are the fantasy scenes of pirates, dinosaurs and space. Then there are the everyday situations that the children may come across or have accessed e.g. houses, train track, garages, farms, zoo animals all topped up with cars, people and animals.


These resources enable children to act out daily routines or past events either keeping the story as it happened or changing the end to suit them. For example, we used our small world farm resources both before and after our recent annual trip to a farm park. The children got lots of play from this in reliving the day’s events from the tractor ride through to seeing and feeding the animals.


In the past we have extended their small world play into creativity and role play by building life size items to enhance their play i.e. a cardboard box pirate ship, dressing up and dinosaur footprints passing through pre-school.


In the past few years, we seem to have more and more children who come to us at the age of two years and are slightly delayed in their speech and language. We find that small world allows them to narrate their own story and those who feel shy to talk to us become more confident in their independent play. When engrossed we get a better understanding of what level their vocabulary is at.


We love to see them acting out the day to day scenarios they live through, making sense of situations and as practitioners it is our role to know when to sit back and observe and when to become involved. Watching and listening to the children is often when we have captured some of the best observations of the children’s development, small world really lends itself to this.


When we are aware of experiences that children are going through e.g. a little girl who has regular hospital visits, we amend our planning to include those resources for her with the hospital, doctors, nurses and patients.


We like to provide as many natural resources as possible, items collected from the park or the beach: shells, seaweed and driftwood so that the children can build these into their play and create their own small world scenes, leading the way with their play and ideas.


Small world gives huge benefits to the children with a whole world of possibilities, excitement, learning and play. They can invent and discover and escape to an abstract world where they tell the story and who wouldn’t want to do that!


To have a look at our Small World products, please click here.


Categories: Education

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