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Insider Guide: Small World Play and Language

Insider Guide: Small World Play and Language

Small-world play is something most parents do with their children instinctively. We create scenes and situations with toys and props - animals in a jungle or pirates on a boat, for example - to teach children about the world.Ostheimer and Grimm's Small World Play

Grimm's Dolls with Ostheimer Figures and Fabric


It’s an especially useful tool for building language skills at around 18-24 months, when many children really begin to switch on to this sort of play. So if you are trying to help a child with sounds and words, it’s worth spending some time with them in a small world. Here’s some inspiration for creating small-world play for language:

Ostheimer Goose Girl with Leaves

Ostheimer Goose Girl and Geese, natural materials.


Choose your subject:  big or small, real or fantastic, it’s up to you. The idea is to create a meaningful context in which to identify certain words and phrases. Choosing something your child is already familiar with is a good idea, so that they can build on what they already know and feel confident. Zoos and farms are always good as most children love animals and know of some already through family pets or trips. And domestic scenes work well, too. One of the reasons that doll's houses are so popular is that they allow children to explore life in the home without being constrained by what is allowed in real life.


Grimm's Dolls in Kitchen

Grimm's Dolls and Doll's House Furniture with Ostheimer Dogs


Grimm's Dolls in Bedroom

Grimm's Dolls in the Bedroom


Keep it simple: Whatever scene you’re creating, try to limit it to just one space and around two or three characters or animals.  Too much going on will dazzle them. Concentrate instead on finding a good mix of materials and textures, especially natural ones. For example you might create an underwater scene in a shoe box, with sand for the sea-bed, a natural sponge and a shell. As the play becomes more sophisticated, you can add more - a blue silk for the water and a toy fish, for example. Vocabulary is naturally extended as the world increases in detail. And because new words have been learnt in a fun and meaningful context they will be remembered.


Ostheimer Zebras

Ostheimer Zebras, mother and baby.


Play!: Small world play works best when children are already familiar with the context. Let your choice of small world setting be guided by what your child is currently interested in. If it's dinosaurs, make a prehistoric world, a 'Jurassic Park' or even the Natural History Museum. And there's no need to provide every detail. Children will take the play in unexpected directions. Better to keep some versatile materials on hand so that the new world can be extended as inspiration strikes, for example, a simple set of wooden blocks and some fabric.

If and when he loses interest, you can move on to something else, knowing you can return to your small-world with a whole new vocabulary.

April 18, 2016 By Alexis Ralphs
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