Mini Playscapes – Small World – Desert Life

eyfs - toddler - preschool - pre-k - sensory play- messy play - rice play - small world - playscape - playscene - learning through play - play matters


Children make sense of the world around them through play. Their world is replayed through taking part in everyday self-care activities, roleplay and small world. Observing play tells us a lot about what they have learnt and are currently learning. New experiences are exciting, yet can often be scary for little ones. Using small world scenes is a way of introducing children to new places and experiences in a way they feel safe and comfortable allowing them to explore at their own pace.

When there is a change in children’s usual environment it is a great time to explore associated, but different places. During a heatwave in the UK this desert playscape was used to explore places much hotter than us. The scene used the vibrant orange playrice from Tiny Land and split peas. Using two different types of materials for the base of the scene is good to help little ones to compare size, texture and sounds. The rest of the scene includes the packaging from a Grimms Pebble Set, Grimms Pebbles, part of the Grimms Casa Sole and orange and yellow buttons. 

You could add whatever animals you wanted into the playscape, here are a Lanka Kade Camel, small plastic camel and a Lanka Kade Meerkat. By having two different types of camels you can discuss similarities and differences in the appearance, size, feel and materials used. 

Scenery and Characters


  • What do you know about the desert already?
  • Why does a camel have a big hump?

Brilliant Books

It’s not going to set the world on fire, but if you are looking for 
a text that can be read by early readers with large images, this
is a good place to start. 
A huge favourite of ours. The lovable Sunny heads off on an
adventure to see new places; he write home often on beautifully
illustrated postcards. 
One I’ve not used with my little one Floss yet, but have in 
school. Warm oil painted illustrations, along with text, tells the
story of a Somalian refugee living in an orphanage and his love
and memories of the animals he grew up with. 

When They’re Ready Phonics

A lovely activity to go alongside desert small world play is making textured phonics flashcards. Using card, get your little one to either trace over a letter shape already drawn with glue or freehand draw with glue depending upon their skill level. Then sprinkle over sand, rice or split peas/ lentils shaking off any excess. Leave to dry. Ta dah! Your very own phonics flashcards. You could make just one for a particular sound or a whole set. 

When They’re Ready Maths

Addition – Learning to count the total amount that you have through counting on. Choose some of the orange buttons and count how many you have chosen. Lining them up and counting in order or moving them as you count are both good methods. Hide them under a pot and write the number on a piece of paper on top. Now choose some of the yellow buttons. Starting with the number on top of the pot count on to find out how many buttons have been chosen altogether. Once done, uncover the pot and count them all. Do you get the same number? 

Sharing – Try sharing different quantities of buttons between two people. Can they be shared. Introducing vocabulary of odd and even for numbers.

eyfs - toddler - preschool - pre-k - sensory play- messy play - rice play - small world - playscape - playscene - learning through play - play matters

Change It Up!

Want to make your playscape last longer? Take out the animals, buttons and pebbles. Mix the rice and split peas together – they probably already are! Push them to one side and add water to the other side. You’ve now got a beach scene with hot sand and cool water. Add ocean animals and you’ve extended the play. Thanks so much for reading. If you’ve got any ideas or suggestions I’d love to hear them in the comments.

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