Reflections on Play: Small World Play and Imagination

Small world is an important aspect of children’s play, aiding many areas of development. Imaginative skills are supported allowing the child to express thoughts and experiences into their play, whilst exploring the world in which they live. Small world also offers the opportunity for children to build on their language skills, expanding their vocabulary and their understanding. This type of play not only supports a range of areas for development, but also benefits the child’s independent play skills. Let’s consider how and why…


Children use their own experiences of the world to build on their imaginative skills. Small world play offers the opportunity for children to act out these experiences in a controlled way. Small world environments allow children to act out daily routines or past events such as putting a doll to bed or driving a car, however it also allows them to experiment with fantasy play and incorporate their own ideas as well.

Building Language Skills

Small world supports a breadth of language skills including building vocabulary and understanding. Children are able to learn new words and practice using them in context. Expressive language skills can be encouraged through a small world experience, allowing the child to narrate their play and talk about what is happening. Positional language will often be a factor in this type of play, as a child move the people in, on and under objects. This allows the children to specifically begin to play with ‘voice’ (taking on different characters) and develop their story-telling skills.

Independent Play

Small world play offers the opportunity for children to access independent play. They may play alongside other children but they tend to be engrossed in their own play. This is important in giving the child time alone to gather their thoughts and express their ideas without any input from others. Independent play is vital in gaining self confidence and awareness of a child’s self.

Problem Solving Skills

Problem solving skills are key due to the nature of the play. Scenarios can often change and adapt, enabling the child to think of new ideas or ways to extend the play. Resources are a range of sizes and scales meaning a doll may not fit into a small world car. This can lead a child to display a range of emotions and use their problem solving skills to fix the problem and continue the play successfully. This encourages children to work through issues between characters, or work out problems within the scene itself.

Cause and Effect

Children will often learn a great deal about cause and effect through small world as they have a great deal of control over the play. This allows them to experiment with different actions, leading them to understand different outcomes. This creates a safe environment for the children to practice cause and effect without great consequences, since your wee one has complete control over this little world he or she begins to see what happens when certain actions are taken.

Introducing others’ experiences

Children gain a great sense of who they are and where they belong in the world through this type of play, and if given the opportunity, can discover and relate to a variety of real life situations. Small world play can be purposefully set-up by an adult so that it reflects a variety of cultures and diverse communities. This provides children with the opportunity to experience the similarities and differences between themselves and others.
Remember to tag your own adventures in small world play with @adventureswithalicesharp, I love to see all your wonderful ideas!