Make Your Own Small World Scene

title image 'make your own small world scene' with 6 images of various small worlds (jungle, mini beast, bear cave, dinosaur, river huts, woodland rabbits)
When I taught Reception, small world scenes were one of my favourite activities to prepare, and these days I love to do it for T. I think they make such a lovely activity, combining the creativity of fantasy and storytelling with the development of the child’s scientific and geographical understanding of the world around them. While my small world scenes vary, there are a few key ‘ingredients’ which I use again and again, so I thought it might be helpful to share these with you!

Grab a container

For some small worlds, you might just need a table top, but I generally prefer to use a container of some sort which means it can be moved around and also contains any mess. So a tray, a washing up bowl, a shoe box, an under bed storage tray, whatever you have to hand! T&A were given a tuff spot for Christmas which will be great for doing some bigger ‘small worlds’ as well as for messy play.
A plastic storage tub containing sticks, pinecones and stones as well as plastic insect toys.
We used a storage tub for this small world, which is now looking rather battered from frequent use! This minibeast scene didn’t have a base layer (though green fabric or hessian would have been nice) and we used lots of natural materials in place of other props and sensory materials.

Find your base layer

Something to cover the bottom of your container. Fabric is great for this! We have some blue sequinned fabric which we often use for water. Hessian sacking is a great natural ‘earthy’ option. Raid you nearest fabric shop’s bargain bin and see what you find! As well as providing a background for your small world, fabrics add to the sensory element. If you don’t have fabric to hand, paper is a good alternative. Of course, if you are making a ‘wet’ small world – using water, slime, ice or spaghetti for instance – you will want to leave out your base layer!
Scene showing wooden caves as well as a bear, a person, and trees and pinecones.
We used green fabric as a base layer but also included sequinned fabric as water.

Choose your props

Depending on your small world, you might have trees, buildings, a nest, caves, rocks, icebergs, houses, a volcano, or a network of roads. Don’t worry if you don’t have actual props! Have a go at making some – toilet roll tubes can become all manner of things and making your props can be a whole activity in itself!
Huts on green fabric. There is a glass gem river, wood slices as stepping stones and peg people.
We had lots of fun making these toilet paper roll huts together and the following day I incorporated them into a small world scene.

Add some sensory materials

Having some additional materials in there is great for adding to the sensory element of the play and making it a bit more inviting! I vary what I use, but at different times I have used hay, oats, dried chickpeas, lentils, rice, buttons, playdough or glass pebbles. You might even like to use more than one for different areas of the small world! If you do this, you might want to have additional small containers to minimise the risk of them being mixed immediately. Then again…you might find that happens regardless!
Nest filled with lentils and chicks
Our Spring Sensory Bin from last year used lentils as well as some Easter-themed table decorations.

Include some natural objects

Again this depends on your small world. I have used large leaves for a jungle scene. We also have a stash of sticks, rocks, conkers, acorns, pine cones and shells. You may like to collect some autumn leaves or purchase some fake leaves. Flower petals could also be lovely!
Tub containing leafy stems and some sticks, along with jungle animals.
Some sticks and leafy stems make a good jungle scene!

Add your characters

We have a broad range of animals for using in small world scenes. Duplo, Lego, Fisher Price, Playmobil people or Sylvanian Families are also great additions. We also have some wooden peg dolls which are great as they can be anyone! If you want a specific character (e.g. from a story), trying printing some small images and sticking them to pebbles with PVA to make ‘story stones’.
Dinosaur themed small world. The ground is covered in chickpeas and in the background there is a moss covered rock with a dinosaur on top. There are two dinosaurs in the foreground.
This dinosaur land used chickpeas as the sensory element, and large rocks and moss from the garden.
Ok, you’re ready to play! Have fun! For more small world inspiration, click here.
NB: This post includes affiliate links, but all recommendations are my own.

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