Adventures in Little World-ing (or, Stealing From Teacher Tom)

Natural Playscaping is an increasing trend in Early Childhood Education right now.  Natural Playscapes are simply that:  safe areas to play where children can interact with natural features (hills, streams, dry river beds, digging pits), natural foliage (trees, herbs, flowers), and natural playthings (rocks, shells, branches) and/or toys, climbers or swings made from all-natural products, ideally indigenous to the area.  You won’t see Little Tikes here — just Little Ones exploring, creating, and immersing themselves in the outdoors.

Studies show that all children can benefit HUGE amounts by spending greater amounts of time outdoors (something we all know, either intuitively or by experience).   And even greater benefits happen when children are not just outside, say, at a traditional playground, but when they are outside getting their hands dirty, so to speak.   Children with challenges like autism, ADHD and others, have all been observed experiencing dramatic improvements when interacting with nature.

Last summer I embarked on a journey to (slowly) change our home daycare environment to one that includes more opportunities for children to do just that: get dirty, get wet, explore, experiment, build, tear down, dig, pretend and play with nature.   I’ve received lots of inspiration from the Let The Children Play blog and Richard Louv’s book “Last Child In The Woods“, and others.

But today I decided to do some unabashed plagurism by stealing Teacher Tom’s ideas for “Little Worlds”.

The idea is to provide materials for children to create tiny, three dimensional scenes for pretend play.  While some Early Childhood Educators call them “fairy gardens”, Teacher Tom has chosen the more generic term “Little Worlds”.  I prefer the term also, as it is less restrictive to the imagination.  After all, would you have dinosaurs, cars or elephants in a Fairy Garden?  Perhaps, but the idea of a “world” tends to encompass anything that a child could imagine would be there, without limiting him or her to any preconceived notions of what a “Fairy Garden” is.

With that in mind, I’ve created our own “Little World” in the backyard.  An area set aside to encourage creativity and dollhouse-style pretend play.  The kids haven’t been at it yet (although my own 4-year-old spent about an hour playing with the various materials yesterday).  The true experiment begins tomorrow, when I show the 2-year-olds how to use this new area …

With an Ikea table from Value Village, some cedars pilfered from our front yard, Dollarama decorations and picket fence, and stump stools from a good friend of ours, I pieced together this Little World.  I still plan on adding a sign with it’s name on it, to designate this as a special space for a specific type of play.  I’m hoping that it’s obvious to the kidlets that this area is not for running or climbing, but for sitting and creating.  I’m also hoping that the visual boundaries of the little picket fence and cedars will help with reminding the kids to keep the loose part items in Little World.

I added some shells, river rocks, little tree branch cookies, bark, aquarium castles and peg people to jumpstart the creativity.   All are large enough to not be choke hazards, but small enough to fit the scale of their miniature creations.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the Little Ones come up with in Little World!


  1. May 8, 2019
    Such a lovely idea! I’ve been getting my kids to join me in gardening. I think I’m going to follow in your footsteps adding some play areas and sections where they can sit outside and do some fun creative projects every now and then.


  2. May 8, 2019
    That’s great! I know your kids will enjoy it and learn tons in the process!


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