By Fiona Kelleher
After reading my colleague Kathleen Tuite’s blog last week, I was reminded of my niece who loved to play and create her own miniature world using figurines, toys and other props from around the house. She too was a fan of the fairies, but she didn’t stop there, this type of imaginative play seeped into all aspects of her play. She would create her own stories and scenarios and use the figurines and props to act them out. Although she would happily play alone in her own world, she equally loved the company of an adult who she could share her story with and who in turn would support her through this small world play.
It struck me just how important this type of play is for children of all ages but especially for preschool children who are developing their social skills and learning to play cooperatively with others. Together in their small world, using these props and figurines, children can work to create a shared narrative, negotiate roles and responsibilities, and communicate with each other effectively.
This type of play can also support the development of fine motor skills, as children manipulate and move small objects around their miniature world. It also supports them cognitively, as children learn to plan and problem solve while creating their small worlds and the narrative surrounding them.
Through small world play, children can explore and express their emotions in a safe environment, act out different scenarios and work through challenging situations while building their emotional resilience and understanding the emotions of others.
Tips for developing small world play
When thinking about developing small world play in your setting or home either indoors or outdoors, there are a few tips to consider:
- Choose age-appropriate figurines that are safe for the children accessing them. Avoid small pieces that could be a choking hazard and select figurines that are sturdy and easy for small hands to grasp.
- Create an area for your small world play. This could be a designated space for children to freely access these figurines, which could include a small table or a comfortable soft rug or mat.
- Use open ended questions – this type of play is a wonderful opportunity to encourage storytelling with children and for children to use their imagination. Use prompts and ask open ended questions to help children develop their stories while also giving them the message that you are interested and engaged.
- Consider using themes, with children’s input to keep the play interesting and engaging. Observe the children’s interest and ask them about what they would like to see in this play space e.g., animals, superheroes, fairy tales, farms etc.
- Expand vocabulary – when playing and supporting children in this type of play, adults can introduce new words and concepts related to the themes or the stories created.
- Develop social skills – as children play together in this space and make connections using their imagination and shared interests, adults can support them to understand and act out different social situations such as sharing, taking turns and problem solving.
According to Karpov (2014), children use imagination as they develop the cognitive processes required for problem solving, reflective thinking, self-regulation, attention and perspective taking, which only confirms for me the endless benefits of this type of play for children.
So, when I think about small world play and I remember my niece as she brought her figurines to life with names and back stories, I am reminded of how important it was to her that we remember these characters and join her in her world for hours and hours of fun.
Karpov, Y. V. (2014). Vygotsky for Educators. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.