I love playing with Gwen and sensory small worlds are one of the activities we really enjoy together.
What's Great about Sensory Small Worlds?
Learning and Exploring New Themes. Sensory small worlds are great for introducing a theme to young children and allowing them to explore the theme sensorially and through hands-on activity. For instance, a child can immerse herself in some good old countryside farm play, recognising different barnyard animals, with a farm animal themed small world. It's like bringing the great outdoors and nature into the comfort of your home. On days when it's hard to get outdoors (illness/poor weather), it's the perfect solution.
Ramps Up Imaginative Play! Sensory small worlds are particularly fun for toddlers who are quickly making sense of the world around them and excelling in pretend play. The sensory play materials in small worlds promote creative pretend play and allow children to play with make-believe scenarios in their minds. For example, children enjoy picking up little hay bits to pretend feed the barnyard animals in a farm themed small world, picturing themselves as farmers. Gwen particularly likes making her favourite animal, the horse, sleep (by laying it sideways!) and prance about (complete with cute "neigh neigh" sound effects!)
Sensory Small Worlds vs Sensory Bins - Any Difference?
Sensory small worlds are broader extensions of sensory bins, with a variety of sensory materials vs just one sensory filler, and the most prominent difference is the theme they convey. Sensory small bins bring to life an image, a vision of a real-world scenario... while sensory bins usually look like an overload of one sensory filler.
They serve two distinct purposes - sensory small worlds are more for encouraging pretend play, language development and creativity, while sensory bins are more for exploring with the senses and refinement of motor skills.
Read more about the differences between sensory small worlds vs good ol' sensory bins on Little Bins for Little Hands.
5 Exciting Sensory Small World Ideas for Toddlers
These 5 sensory small worlds are diverse and introduce very unique and different ecosystems to little ones.
1) Insect Sensory Small World
- Pick up creepy crawlies with tweezers and hide them in pretend soil and real rocks by Miraculove
- Hide insects in tree logs by Fun A Day
- Explore bugs and insects on green play dough by Childhood 101
- Explore insects in backyard finds like dried and fresh leaves by Play Adventures
2) Farm Animal Sensory Small World
- Simple farm animal sensory small world with green dyed rice by Miraculove
- Farm small world set up with fabric scraps by Little World's Big Adventures
- Complete farm scene with mud and water for piggies by The Imagination Tree
- Farm sensory play with felt, hay, lentils and play dough by Pre-K Pages
- Realistic farm set up with kitchen pantry ingredients by Craftulate
- Edible taste-safe farm sensory small world by Messy Little Monster (Superb for littles one still in oral exploratory mouthing stage!)
3) Seaside Sensory Small World
- Taste-safe nutritious sand in a beach small world by Miraculove
- Simple beach sensory small world (with cute drink umbrellas for the beach goers!) by Little World's Big Adventures
- Fun seaside small world complete with little boats and moldable sandcastles by The Imagination Tree
- Edible polenta (for sand) and blue jelly (for the sea) beach small world by Play Inspired Mum
4) Ocean Sensory Small World
- Floral gems and real water ocean set up by Stay at Home Educator
- Scuba diving in the ocean fun with a creative setup by Happy Hooligans
- Ocean blue spaghetti small world by Montessori from the Heart
- Underwater small world under the table by Little World's Big Adventures
5) Vehicle Sensory Small World
- Playtown for vehicles complete with ramp, garage, tunnel and parking lots by Miraculove
- Fun train small world designed with paper and markers by Create with Your Hands
- Car town made with straws and black beans by Buggy and Buddy
- Taste safe construction site small world by Play Inspired Mum
- Super easy construction vehicle small world in a cardboard box by Happy Hooligans
Word of Caution
With small sensory materials which present choking risk, parental supervision is required during playtime.
A Note About Mess
With sensory small worlds, it is inevitable for mixing of sensory materials, dumping of sensory fillers etc (aka mess) to happen. You can do the following to contain mess:
- Place a large plastic sheet or used bathroom shower curtain under sensory bin to collect small loose parts that fall out
- Place a mat or pool float underneath the sensory table to collect stuff that drop off the table
- Have the sensory activity take place in the bathtub or backyard if possible
- Put on a waterproof apron or dress children in only diapers (if weather's warm enough)
- Reinforce rules during playtime gently and repetitively, such as no dumping or throwing of sensory materials
Try not to be too uptight about the mess, and remind yourself it's doing a lot of good to children's brain development - Read my earlier post Why I Appreciate Mess in Sensory Play to find some zen (hopefully!)
- Pair a sensory small world activity with a book that reflects the same theme to reinforce learning and enhance recognition of characters, objects etc
- Invite more children to immerse in the sensory small world play - younger kids will be inspired by how differently older kids play and that may extend play time and interest. Quoting Susie Allison of Busy Toddler, sensory activities are equalizers of play, from 12 months old to 12 years, there's something for every child to do!
For more sensory play ideas, check out @miraculove_sg (Instagram), save our pins or join A Toddler Activity A Day Facebook Group.
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Hi! I am Yunnie. I am the newly minted mama to a little baby girl and a mum friend to everyone on this special (and many times scary) journey of motherhood. Also a graduated bride with a penchant for weddings.