Visiting Small Worlds

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Have you trekked through the desert lately? Or trudged through the arctic? How about a quick dip in the ocean? We really enjoy using various materials to create small worlds for play. Scarves, gems, pine cones, sand, rocks, seashells, herbs, corn… The list goes on and on! During this LEAP session, you’ll likely seen these miniature worlds in action. These setups are engaging for toddlers and provide benefits to their growth.

What are small worlds?

Small worlds involve using miniature items such as toys, found objects, or replicas to act out scenes or ideas from real life, stories, or books. They often include sensory elements which add an even more in-depth experience and create more opportunities for stimulation of language and creativity.

These tiny setups can be as simple or elaborate as you and your toddler choose. We love using light tables to represent the arctic, but filling our sensory bin with sand and water definitely feels like a trip to the ocean. Most of our small worlds include animals (we can’t help it… we’re zoo people!), but we always aim for a nature connection. Sometimes it’s as simple as providing dirt and clay pots to mimic a garden.

We suggest keeping your miniature world as simple as possible. Why? The simplicity offers toddlers a multitude of options. They can play and interact with the materials however they choose, offering opportunities to experience preferences and stimulate their creativity.


The worlds may be small, but the benefits sure aren’t! When you set up a small world, you are offering your toddler an opportunity to explore and…

  • Develop language – Language is essentially a bunch of symbols that have a shared meaning for us. When your toddler uses items to represent real life objects, he or she is practicing assigning meaning to symbols. It may seem simple, but the benefits are long-term. Small world play also offers time for you to engage in conversation with your toddler. Ask them to explain their world or narrate your actions as you play.

  • Practice cooperation – If you, or another toddler, is joining in small world play, it’s a wonderful opportunity to practice cooperation. From sharing materials to “living” in the small world with others, this play time helps toddlers understand body awareness and expression of feelings.

  • Stimulate creativity – Thinking back on the simplicity suggestion, there is truly no wrong way to use a small world. Maybe snakes eat veggies in your toddler’s world or seals climb mountains – that’s a-okay! Creativity is abundant at this young age, and having outlets to express it helps strengthen problem solving skills and logical reasoning. Plus it’s fun!

  • Work those fine motor muscles – Small worlds are tiny! Manipulating them requires dexterity and fine motor movement. From “feeding” otters to digging dens for wolves, using small worlds allows your child to use those fine motor muscles.

Where have you travelled with your toddler? We’d love to hear about the small worlds you’ve tried. As you enjoy the remaining weeks of LEAP, keep an eye out for our small world set ups. Feel free to make them your own!

Looking for more inspiration? Click the button below to download a handout of our favorite small worlds.

Written by Nicole Hodur