Small World Play Ideas

small world play

There is just something about small world play as a sensory play activity that supports skill development. Occupational therapy and play go hand in hand. When kids participate in small work play, they are building skills in creativity, fine motor skills, sensory exploration, communication, self-confidence, and so much more. Here, you’ll find small world play examples and ideas to support development in these areas.

small world play

Small World Play

Before we go further, let’s cover exactly what we mean by small worlds.

A small world is a play activity on a small scale. Kids interact with the miniature toys, small sensory tables and use imaginative play to explore and pretend on a smaller scale.

A small world can be set up in a variety of ways:

  • In a sensory bin
  • In play dough
  • On a train table or other low table
  • In a cardboard box
  • In a low tray
  • On the ground

One way to think about small worlds is a fairy house: Kids set up a fairy house area under a tree or in a corner of the yard. They can move and manipulate items to use in pretend play: natural material or commercial fairy houses, small objects like pebbles, sticks, bark, and fairy objects. These items are all part of the fairy small world.

Why Set up a Small World Play Area?

When kids play in a small world, they develop many areas.

Most likely to develop is fine motor skills, but other areas can develop, too:

  • Precision
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Finger isolation
  • Hand strength
  • Visual motor skills

small world play ideas

There are items your can use from around the home to use in small worlds. Here is a list of items to gather when creating a little world:

  • Container: bin, box, sensory table, etc.
  • River rock
  • Mini figures: animals, farm sets, train sets, dolls, etc.
  • Sand
  • Fake flowers
  • Craft materials
  • Play dough
  • Beads
  • Sensory dough or slime

The options are basically limitless when it comes to setting up a small area. Use the examples below to spark more ideas.

Small World Play Examples

Our kids love small world play.  We’ve done so many activities that involve little worlds of imagination and pretend.  Small world activities foster language development, story telling, self-confidence, fine motor skills, sensory exploration, and more. 

Outdoor small world– We set this activity up under the base of a tree. Use materials like sticks, flowers, rocks, pebbles, roots, grass, etc.

Fairy small world– set up a fairy pretend area in a sand box. Use items like craft houses, rocks, and even glittery items.

Cardboard box pretend play– Use a cardboard box for a pretend play area.

Bug small world– Use plastic bugs and a sensory bin to pretend.

Construction Sensory Table by Preschool Powol Packets  

Camping Small World by Fantastic Fun and Learning  

Erupting Volcano Science Dino Play by Adventures at Home with Mum  

Toddler Tuesday: Sensory Sink by Teaching Mama  

Dinosaur Volcano Science Sensory Bin by Little Bins for Little Hands   You also might like:

Dinosaur Small World Activity

Small World Play Dough Farm

Animals at the Lake

Bunny Small World Play

 
 
 
 
 

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Play Dough Activity for Fine Motor Skills

playdough activities for fine motor skills

Looking for a play dough activity (or many) that develop and strengthen fine motor skills? Here, you’ll find playdough activities for fine motor skills, and specifically play dough occupational therapy ideas to strengthen the hands, improve eye-hand coordination, and address underlying skills that kids so very need? You’ll find a lot of fine motor activities here on The OT Toolbox…today we’re sharing fine motor activities with play dough. Whether it’s homemade play dough or store bought, play dough is a great way to build motor skills needed for precision tasks like pencil grasp, scissor skills, precision in buttoning, zippering, or tying shoes? Fine motor play is a great way to build the skills kids need.

playdough activities for fine motor skills

occupational therapy fine motor skills

In occupational therapy, fine motor skills are a huge area of consideration. OTs often address fine motor skills and the impact on play, self-care, and other functional skills. A play dough activity is one way to make strengthening fine motor skills fun!

Here are ways to use a fun play dough activity to strengthen small motor skills…let’s use play dough to work those hands!

Speaking of occupational therapy and fine motor skills, using other commonly found materials (play dough being one, there are other items that work little muscles of the hand in OT sessions…playing cards, craft pom poms, beads, and paper clips are some ideas.

Catch up on the latest tools on The OT Toolbox.

  • These activities and paper clip activities are an easy way to address a variety of fine motor needs on the go.
Use play dough to improve fine motor skills with these fine motor activities using play dough.

Fine Motor Activities with Play DOugh

Here’s the thing: play dough is an easy and effective means for building fine motor skills for preschoolers. The soft and squishy dough provides a tactile sensory challenge with proprioceptive sensory feedback. The bonus is the strengthening of the arches of the hands and precision of grasp.

Fine motor activities like playing with playdough build many fine motor skill areas:

  • Precision- Precision occurs with development of grasp when child to use the pads of the index finger, middle finger, and thumb to manipulate objects with opposition.  
  • Hand strength
  • Open thumb web space
  • Separation of the sides of the hand
  • Finger isolation

Here are all of the intricacies of fine motor skills. Read about the definitions of fine motor skills and how each skill area is needed for tasks like pencil grasp, buttons, and other fine motor tasks.

Playing with play dough builds other skills as well:

Build fine motor skills using play dough to improve coordination, dexterity, and grasp.

playdough activities for fine motor skills

We’ve covered all of the various ways play dough supports fine motor development. Now, let’s discover how to use play dough for fine motor skills.

Let’s get to those playdough activities for fine motor skills! A tub of play dough has so many options for building fine motor strength and dexterity.

  • Roll balls of dough between the thumb and pointer/middle fingers.
  • Make a rainbow with rolls of different colors of play dough.
  • Use a play dough mat like this ice cream play dough mat and others on this site.
  • Make play dough snakes and cut with scissors
  • Roll a long rope of play dough and roll it into a cinnamon bun
  • Hide beads and have a race to find them
  • Create an obstacle course for the fingers with hurdles and jumps
  • Spread the play dough out into a pizza. Use scissors to cut it into slices
  • Make a small world with hills and mountains for small animal figures
  • Make a maze for a ping pong ball. Blow the ball through the maze with a straw
  • Make a small keyboard using balls of dough. Press on the play dough balls with one finger 
  • Make a play dough pie. Pinch the crust, create play dough berries.
  • Form letters using the play dough
  • Mix water into the play dough for a squishy, messy dough
  • Build structures using popsicle sticks and play dough. Add details with feathers scraps of paper, etc
  • Make play dough emoji faces 
  • Roll play dough into a sheet. Cut it with scissors.
  • Cut with cookie cutters
  • Press google eyes into play dough
  • Press buttons into playdough
  • Push pegs into play dough
  • Press straws into play dough to make circles
  • Press kitchen utensils into play dough
  • Press feathers into playdough
  • Nature sculptures- add leaves, pine cones, acorns, etc.
  • Make play dough muffins with muffin tin
  • Press rocks into play dough
  • Use candles or pipe cleaners and craft sticks to create playdough birthday cakes
  • Press craft sticks into play dough to make a STEM building set

Several of the play dough activities above mentioned using scissors. Here is a resource on types of scissors to start with to address various fine motor needs.

Printable Fine Motor Play Dough Activity

One way to support fine motor skills with play dough is using a printable play dough mat. We have many play dough mats here on the site. These are also available in our Membership Club as well as in our fine motor kits.

What would you add to this list of fine motor activities using play dough?

Use these Fine Motor Kits for hands-on activity kits to develop fine motor skills, strength, dexterity, and manipulation. Kids LOVE these fine motor kits for the motivating activities. Therapists love them because it’s fresh, fun ways to work on pinch, grip, manipulation skills, and much more. Try some of these themed therapy kits:

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Farm Small World Play Dough Activity

farm small world

If you have kids, you’ve probably been aware of the fascination with play dough…and this farm small world hits the mark! We created a farm play dough world using different colors of play dough and a few miniature farm animals to develop fine motor skills, sensory play, and so much more. This was a huge hit when my kids were smaller and one that I love to go back on and look at the pictures! This farm animal play dough idea is a great addition to a farm activities theme for therapy or the classroom!

Farm small world play dough activity with a farm play dough idea

Farm Small World

Play dough farm animals are fun ways to support skills in kids…So, what is a farm small world and how can we use this play dough activity to support skill building in kids?

First of all, a farm small world is just that: a miniature farm play activity on a small scale. For kids, play is all about pretend, and play is a powerful means to develop skills: motor skills, cognitive, sensory, etc.

Occupational therapists involve play in therapy sessions to support development of skills through the child’s primary occupation, play!

A farm small world is a play set-up with a farm theme to inspire skills in areas such as:

  • Fine motor work– Using the fingers to manipulate farm animal figures in play dough for strengthening and precision
  • Heavy work (proprioceptive input) through the hands– By pressing play dough into a small world surface and pressing farm animal figures into the play dough
  • Creativity– Imaginative play to create scenarios, and pretend play scenes using the farm play dough creations
  • Communication skills– Using receptive language and expressive language to communicate between farm animals or farmer, etc.
  • Self-awareness and body awareness– Moving the body through space to manipulate animals and farm figures
  • Crossing midline– Moving on the floor or table surface to reach across the small world farm
  • Floor play– Playing on the floor for heavy work. Also using principles of DIR Floor Play as a therapy modal
  • Visual Processing skills– Eye-hand coordination, visual motor skills, visual scanning, form constancy

A DIY Farm play dough kit can develop so many skill areas!

You can even use the play dough farm animals set along with our Farm Brain Breaks for whole-body therapy fun.

Farm play dough small world with farm animal minifigures

How to Make a Farm Play Dough Small WOrld

To create a farm small world play space, you can gather a few materials:

  1. Play dough in various colors (brown, blue, and green)
  2. Farm figures: miniature farm animals, plastic fence, and small trucks or tractors if you have them
  3. A surface- We used a plastic frisbee for our farm small world, but you could use a plastic plate, a small bin, or a box.

To make the farm playdough world, first press the play dough into the surface of the container. Use fingertips to press the brown, green, and blue play doh into the surface.

Next, add miniature cows, horses, chicken, ducks, pigs, etc. Press the farm animals into the play dough to create animal footprints.

Add farm details such as plastic fencing, miniature tractors, etc.

Then play with the farm play dough kit!

Little Guy loved playing with this little play dough set up.  We pulled out our farm animals and a few colors of play dough, and played farm!   Little Guy said we needed to get a couple of his cars too.  Because the animals needed to go places on his farm 🙂

Use a tractor vehicle in a play dough farm small world activity.

  We explored footprints and tire impressions in the play dough.    

Child pressing a toy tractor into a farm play dough activity, with tractor tracks in the play dough.

  The pigs had the mud to themselves…

Farm play dough small world with miniature pigs in brown play dough

  …and all of the birds stayed in the “lake”.

Play dough farm with chicken, ducks, and geese minifigures.

   And then all of the animals got hot and had to take a dip in the lake 🙂  

Farm animals in play dough in a play dough small world

This was a fun way to spend a little time playing with my Little Guy and exploring that imagination of his.  He is such a sweet little dude with big ideas and loves having FUN.  

We thought it was pretty funny to make animal impressions in the play dough, too.  This is a great way to work on fine motor strength and visual motor skills such as visual closure.

We played a little guessing game where one of us would cover our eyes and the other would make an imprint in the play dough.  Then the other person would guess what animal made the shape.  We did this for a long time…doing each animal.

Press animal mini figures into play dough to guess the animal by shape.

And then back to the farm we went.  And the animals took a few joy rides on their cars and trucks!  

Goose toy on a farm tractor in a play dough small world farm activity

So, what do you think? Does this farm small world play look like a fun idea or what? Farm small world animals and a few containers of play dough can support so many developmental areas!

Looking for more fine motor and pretend play skill-builders? Check out our fine motor kits for themed OT work, including these:

Free Farm themed Scissor Skills Sheets

You’ll also love our Fine Motor Kits:

Use these Fine Motor Kits for hands-on activity kits to develop fine motor skills, strength, dexterity, and manipulation. Kids LOVE these fine motor kits for the motivating activities. Therapists love them because it’s fresh, fun ways to work on pinch, grip, manipulation skills, and much more. Try some of these themed therapy kits:

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.