Swamp small world

Up until now, I’ve done a lot of messy, sensory activities with my kids, many of which would at some point involve my oldest asking for his cars (if he didn’t already have them), and using them with any material to make little role plays and stories. What we haven’t done, and what I’ve recently been very excited to start exploring, is small world play.

So here was our first attempt: a small world swamp. The kids helped me make it first, which may or may not have been a good idea… I think they kind of had fun, but I had a particular idea of what I wanted to achieve before letting them loose on it so I was limiting their input and creativity in this stage.

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We used food coloured cornflour gloop for the swamp (mix water and cornflour, super easy); borrowed some of the rabbit’s sawdust as swamp mulch; made some spiky swamp grass by sticking cocktail sticks into polystyrene balls; used green pompoms for swamp bushes; and added some lollipop sticks for logs (some real twigs and stones would have been great, but it’s been freezing and we’ve all been sick on and off… also, as much as my sons would like it, I don’t allow them to keep a stash of sticks and stones in the tiny apartment). Finally we added some insects, spiders and a crocodile.

The first thing both of them were interested in was the gloop. Elly started digging at it with a lollipop stick and Zeph started squishing bugs into it to make prints. Then, they pretty quickly moved on to sprinkling and then tipping the sawdust into the gloop. Zeph’s crocodile started eating sawdust, and after we tipped off the excess, they both had a go at making circle shaped prints with toilet roll middles.

At this point Elly retired for a long milk break. Meanwhile Zeph spent a long time tipping the messy tray this way and that to watch the mulchy gloop sliding around. Now, when I first said activity time and started setting things out, Zeph immediately went and got some cars and laid them out too. I think he was was a little bit confused when I wanted to put them aside for the beginning at least. The cars did get a look in at this point though. I thought it was the end of any kind of themed small world play, but actually they were only out for a couple of minutes before he set them aside again to concentrate on the crocodile and the wonderful swamp mixture he was concocting!

The crocodile went from gloop to sawdust and back again. It got buried, and stuck and sprinkled. It was force-fed sawdust. The spiky swamp grass got pulled apart and mixed into the gloop. Zeph asked for more water to make the gloop more liquid, and he asked for shapes that he used to scoop and tip. Until, finally, he had enough.

Did it stay a small world play activity all the way through? No. But was it lots of fun and a good activity? Yes!

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Sticky tape windows

This morning my 4 year old son innovated his own activity! He asked me if he could take some red tape and stick it on the window. As the tape in question was easy-remove, I agreed, and gave him some scissors to cut a few pieces. The roll actually ran out pretty quickly but Zeph reminded me that we had some ‘Christmas tape’ (thank you Granny!).

This is a super simple activity with no set up and almost no clean up required. We work on our verandah doors quite regularly, using glass crayons, sticky back paper or turning it into a makeshift easel by taping paper to it. It’s great to work on a vertical surface to strengthen the elbow and shoulder joints; practice extending the wrist for better pencil holding position; promote hand-eye coordination; and give a very immediate sense of spatial concepts such as up and down. Using a large space like this also encourages actions that cross the midline of the body helping the left brain and right brain to work together for physical coordination in fine and gross motor skills, as well as reading and writing skills.

You need:
Colourful tape
Scissors
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First we cut some pieces of tape and stuck them on the windows. Zeph is able to cut his own pieces while juggling the roll of tape, though the tape will often get stuck to itself and he will then sometimes require a bit of help getting it straight again. At nearly 19 months, this was the first time that Elly was allowed to really try proper scissors (as opposed to child safety scissors). Although he had a propensity to aim them into the fingers of his other hand, he did well with them, and was also able to cut off bits of tape by himself.

Next we unrolled loooong pieces, sticking them on as we went, all across and up and down the verandah doors. Then we got bits all stuck to each other and tried to untangle them again. We also stuck some pieces onto the arm of the chair for cutting practice. Finally, Zeph turned the activity into an impromptu small-world play by stretching tape from the glass doors to the toy table to make a bridge. Next he drove cars along it; tried sticking some on to hang above the floor (great opportunity to discuss how some were sticking and others were falling off depending on their weight); and got out his tow trucks for a rescue mission.

For younger kids, you might give them stickers to stick on instead of rolls of tape, for older children you could always challenge them to make shapes with the tape (square, rectangle, triangle, hexagon, etc.), or they could attempt simple images (trees, flowers, a person, etc.)