Click on the titles of the activities to link to the original Facebook post with more photos and videos.
Small world role play is an important aspect within children’s play and the Early Years. It can support learning across all areas of the curriculum. It gives children a chance to act out scenarios and use their imagination, supports their speech and language, personal, social and emotional development, expands vocabulary, provide opportunities to learn about the world around them, prompts mathematical skills, encourages independent play and the use of fine motor muscles.
So this might look like it took a lot of effort to set up and I have to be honest it wasn’t a 5 minute job, however, there are so many things you can do with this small world fairy town that it is definitely worth the effort as hours of fun and learning can be had. These are the activities that are within the little town:
1. Find and sort the fairy post. Each little envelope has a real or non word on them. I focused the words on the ‘air’ and ‘are’ graphemes perfect for children in Phase 5 learning alternatives graphemes for the same phoneme. Segment and blend the word and place them in the correct fairy houses. Adapt the words for whatever phase your child is working at. Older children could write a sentence for each of the real words.
2. Using some string and two pencils I made a fairy washing line. Put out small grapheme cards and your child can create words on the line.
3. Your child can write wishes for the ‘wish pot’. Encourage them to start the sentence with a capital letter and end it with a full stop. Children working in Phase 3 should easily be able to write the words ‘I wish for’ to start their sentences.
4. Each mushroom has a tricky word on it. Write the ones that your child is finding tricky and needs to practise. I just made these by painting some stones red and added some white dots.
5. Using a small tray, glitter and a ‘wand’ (made of a pencil and a paper star) your child can form letters or write words in the glitter. They could write the real words they have found on the post.
5. Encourage imaginary role play.
6. For older children this could be a perfect setting for story writing.
You really don’t need too much to set up a fairy town just some upturned plant pots with doors and windows drawn on with marker pen. It doesn’t have to be a fairy town either. Perhaps Troll Town instead?
With young children I think it is important to give them a chance to return to previous activities and games. I was asked by my son (more like it was demanded) that we build a dinosaur small world again. This time though we decided to build T Rex nests. Using the egg shaped letter stones that I had made for the Easter Bunny hunt game we built a dino nest. You could then put out a word list for them to read and build the words using the eggs.
Farm animal words are particularly great words as lots of them are phonetically decodable (you can sound them out) and perfect for children working in Phase 3.
This activity is to help the farmer set up his farm. For children working in Phase 2/early phase 3 you can write single words or small captions and your child reads the card to tell them what to put on the farm. Older children working at the higher end of Phase 3/Phase 4 and 5 read the instructions to help set up the farm.
Once all the animals and equipment are in the right place they can enjoy using the small world role play 👍🏻
Here we go! Here we go! Here we go! Phonics Finger Football!
Choose a card. Segment and blend the word and decide whether the word is a real word or a non word. If it’s a real word you try and score a goal in the green goal with a tick and if it’s a non word you have to score the goal in the red goal with a cross. Once you’ve read all the cards read through each of the words placed behind the goals. Older children could write a sentence for each of the real words.
I made this using some green paper and chalked out the outline. Duplo for the goal posts and stands. The ball was a ball from an outdoor golf game but you could easily just use scrunched up paper or tin foil.
A space themed small world play tray where you sort the oo words. Find a star, read the word and decide which oo the word has in it. Perfect for children working in Phase 3 where they learn the two ways to pronounce ‘oo’, either the ‘oo’ in moon or the ‘oo’ in book. For older children working in Phase 5 you could have the other alternate ways including ‘ue’ like in blue and ‘ew’ like in new. ⭐
Alternatively you could sort real and non-words (alien) words on the stars.
Build words together 👷
I got the Duplo and stones out again that I had used in previous activities so this really did not take long to set up at all.
I added some car parks to our car mat 🚗 You say the sound/word and your child can drive to the right car parking space! We even made some signs together for the buildings on the mat. Older children could write their own signs. If you haven’t got a mat I’ve seen lots of people draw their own , make roads using tape on laminate flooring or chalk one outside. Learning phonics whilst having fun!
A fun filled activity perfect for lovers of the Frozen film.
I froze some blue paint (along with a bit of water) in to lollipop holders. You can then use these to paint. Younger children could form initial sound graphemes and say the sound of the letter as they paint. For older children I looked up some of the decodable words from the lyrics of ‘Let it go’ (let’s be honest I didn’t have to look them up 😂). Your child segments and blends the word and paints the sound buttons underneath. Find the words from the lyrics appropriate to which phase your child is working on.
The castle was quickly put together using Lego, Duplo and some painted loo and kitchen rolls. The snow is flour and the bottom of the tray is a cut up IKEA bag.
Phoneme frames are commonly used within phonics lessons. These are frames that contain a certain number of boxes and help children collect and arrange the sounds they hear. They can use a grapheme card, magnetic letters or write the grapheme into the correct box. For a CVC word the initial phoneme goes in the first box, the middle phoneme is put in the middle box and the final phoneme in the final box.
In this activity the parking bays for the different places within the town act as a phoneme frame and the graphemes are written on bits of masking tape and placed on the top of cars. I used a large piece of paper to draw out the town and included symbols children might be familiar with, i.e the sign for McDonalds or hospital. You can then say a word and they place the right cars in the right boxes or they can explore themselves by moving the cars and building words independently. In order to extend this they could write a list of real words that they manage to build.
You can adapt this by changing the graphemes on the cars depending on the phase and also change the parking bays to contain more boxes, for example each parking bay could have 4 boxes so that children in Phase 4 can build words with adjacent consonants and Phase 3 graphemes like the words ‘clown’ or ‘fresh’.
An engaging activity for all children that love aeroplanes and you end up with a resource that you can play with and display.
I used a blue throw to create the sky and cotton wool pads for the clouds. Behind the cotton wool clouds place some small paper clouds with letters or words on. I made an aeroplane using a clothes peg and card but if you’ve got an plane enthusiast at home then I’m sure you’ve got some model ones to use. Your child flies the plane to each of the clouds and searches for the words/letters behind. They then say the sound or read the word and attaches it to the vapour trail. I used small pegs for this but you could sellotape them or use masking tape for the trail and stick the cloud directly on.
Easily adapted for phase by altering the words on the paper clouds. A great one for tricky words too. I focused this one on the alternate ways to write the ‘air’ phoneme.
‘air’ as in ‘chair’
‘ear’ as in ‘bear’
‘are’ as in ‘care’
‘ere’ as in ‘there’
I made this Zoo small word using some Duplo and small plastic zoo animals, a bit of green paper, porridge oats for the floor, extra fences and signs made out of cardboard, got the trusty cut up IKEA bag and graphemes stones, raisins for the poo and I reused the tricky word sticks from the ‘Pick Up Sticks’ activity.
I then wrote a list of jobs for the Zoo Keeper. You can encourage your child to read through the list and complete the jobs. Ticking the job off the list once they have finished it. The list in the photo would be suitable for children working in Phase 4. Some zoo animals are hard to decode for children working in this phase but you could put out signs for the animals with card or stones so they can refer the word to the sign and work out what it says. Adapt the list to make it appropriate for the phase your child is working in.
For children in Phase 1 you could ‘sound out’ the words and they blend the sounds together in order to find out what job they need to do. My son particularly enjoyed picking up the poo!
Useful decodable words to include:
Phase 2: den, big cats, picnic, pick up, ticket
Phase 3: fix, pool, jeep, clear, feed, near, poo, shop
Phase 4: mend, sweep, croc, spot, drink, tree, swim, gift
Phase 5: elephant, home, field, lion, giraffe, sign, straw, hay, bale, stone, pay, clean
My son turned some stacking cups upside down this morning and started to bounce some of his Duplo people on them like they were on trampolines. I thought I would carry on with his interest, extend his play and so I made a small world trampoline park.
I just taped some brightly coloured strips of paper onto a tray to create lots of rectangles like trampolines. I then taped down some graphemes cards onto each trampoline. I also used a few of the stacking cups too and got some more Duplo people out. You could use any toy characters.
In the case of my son, and for children working in Phase 1, he enjoyed the small world role play and I was able to say can you bounce that person on the ‘o’ trampoline etc.
Children working at building words you could say a word and they have to bounce their character onto the corresponding trampolines to spell that word. You could also have some picture cards. They segment the word and bounce on the correct trampolines.
Adapt the graphemes that you have on the trampoline to suit the phase your child is working in. The trampolines in the photo would be suitable for children who are learning the ‘sh’, ‘ch’, ‘th’ and ‘ng’ digraphs at the beginning of Phase 3 and you could say the words ‘chip’ ‘chop’, ‘shop’, ‘ship’, ‘ring’, ‘chin’ ‘shell’ etc.
A lovely sensory activity that not only supports grapheme recognition and phonic knowledge but also acts as a little Science experiment too.
This tray does need a little preparation so not a quick one that you can pull out of the bag but worth it when my son’s reaction was ‘Wow!’ when he first saw it this morning. I don’t have any small penguin toys so I made the black pebbles into penguins by painting on them with Tipp-Ex and a little orange paint. I put some of the Phonics Gems into an ice cube tray and into the freezer last night. I upturned some small Tupperware boxes and cut off the bottom of a milk carton to act as icebergs. At the bottom of the tray I cut up a plastic bubble bath mat that I got from B&M but this is definitely not necessary. I finally added in a small amount of water with a bit of blue food colouring. The light up magnifying glass was from Poundland.
Your child’s job would be to hunt for the letters on the gems. They will have to wait until some of them are released as the ice melts. They then tick it off their list and write it in the ‘snow’. I used some salt on a blue plate for this. Will they realise that the salt will make the ice melt quicker?
For older children they can hunt for the gems in order to build words and then write them in the ‘snow’. The words on the cards in the photo would be suitable for children working in Phase 5.
Adapt the tick sheet according to phase so your child could be hunting for initials sounds, graphemes from Phase 3 and 5, graphemes in order to build words or you could have tricky words written on the gems.
Once your ‘Polar Explorer’ has found everything on the tick sheet they can then continue to play with the small world tray.
A really fun way to sneak some phonics into small world role-play. My son really enjoyed this tray and spent a long time here this morning. In fact he returned to the activity after his lunch. I taped out some car parking spaces with masking tape and wrote a letter above each one. I also taped out some roads into pre-writing patterns too. On the tray I made a little ‘mud’ out of cocoa powder, flour and water and then put out some pots, trays, scoops, brushes and a soap dispenser to act as the car wash. I then wrote out a quick car wash queue sheet onto cardboard. My son looked at the list and identified which car needed to go into the car wash. He then found the corresponding car, saying the phoneme as he did, moved it along a road and then into the mud. He enjoyed making tracks with the car in the mud and even spontaneously started writing letters with his finger. He used the brushes, scoops, syringe and soap dispenser to clean the car. All great activities to support fine motor skills. Once the car was clean he looked at the list and identified the next car in the queue. You could adapt this to suit older children by having words instead of letters. You could have the colour of the car. For pre-school children you ‘sound out’ the colour of the car ‘r-e-d’ and they blend the sounds to find the right car. A perfect activity to adapt to number recognition too.
We’ve had some messy play today! I found these fab little construction trucks on sale in Tesco, only £3.25 each and they have light and sound too, so I decided to set up a construction themed small world tray.The idea is to take a building plan (a scroll from the pot), unroll it and either read the word and find the corresponding blocks to build the word or identify the picture, ‘sound out’ the word and then find the blocks to spell it. I just used marker pen to write on some wooden blocks. You could use whiteboard pen, a sticker or masking tape. A great way for children to really think about the letters needed in words and would be brilliant spelling practise too.Children can then use the ‘cement’ (corn flour, black food colouring and water) to stick the blocks and build word towers. The gloop is really effective at temporarily sticking the building blocks together and, as messy play goes, not totally unmanageable as it can either be hoovered or wiped away depending on its state. For my son we worked together to build simple CVC word towers. He identified the letter blocks that he needed, used the ‘cement’ to build the tower and then I helped ‘sound out’ the word for him to blend the sounds together. Using a lollipop stick to spread the ‘cement’ is a great way to build fine motor skills and balancing the blocks is good for problem solving, hand-eye coordination and dexterity.
A great activity to set up as it’s themed around a familiar story and uses what you might already have in the kitchen cupboard. Perfect to develop reading skills but also practise letter formation.
I had a copy of Goldilocks and the Three Bears so I selected some phonetically decodable words from the story and wrote them onto card. Your child picks a card, segments and blends the word and then writes it in the items on the tray. Instead of a finger you could use the end of a spoon to really develop the tripod grip.
For younger children you could just have initial sound graphemes on card instead and focus on those that they are finding tricky to form.
Have fun afterwards just playing with the pots and pans.
We did the masking tape track on the floor this morning. We’ve been up since 6 so we’ve had plenty of time! We added in stations using Duplo and made some destinations (beach, car park, farmyard, market). I then made some tickets for the people waiting at the stations. Your child can pick up a passenger and then read where they want to go. Change the destinations depending on phase. If you’ve been working on split diagraphs then the passenger might want to go to the seaside instead of the beach.
For younger children the destinations and stations could just have initial sound graphemes on. The passenger might have a ticket with a ‘m’ on so needs to be taken to the ‘m’ station. Older children could write their own tickets.
We also drew the track on the masking tape with pencil. This took quite a while so required good concentration and develops fine motor skills too 👍🏻
I snuck in some phonics too!
For all of those train enthusiasts. I cut up some small bits of sticker to stick on the pieces of track but you could easily just cut up small bits of paper and tape on.
Get your child to try and create a word by putting some of the pieces of track together. Using a train along the track every time they pass a letter they say the sound and blend the sounds together at the end to make the word.
All graphemes I used here are suitable for children working in Phase 3 but can be adapted for age and phase depending on the graphemes you put out. Children in Phase 2 can build CVC words and children in Phase 5 could build words with Phase 5 graphemes such as ‘railway’, ‘line’ and ‘wheel’.
The sun has come out but we can’t go to the seaside. I’ve brought the seaside to us! You could create word lists for your child to read and then make the word using the stones.
The stones have been the best resource I’ve made since being in isolation. They are so versatile and you can use them in any small world role play.
I cut up an IKEA bag to create the sea and then added some water. The seaweed is a little bit of crepe paper and I cut up some green elastic bands. You could also add green food colouring to spaghetti.
If your little one loves the story ‘Aliens Love Underpants’ then you could create a washing line where your child sorts out the washing and hangs the underpants with the alien words on to the washing line.
Alternatively you could just write some graphemes on some ‘clothes’ to hang. Make a word, change one grapheme each time to make a new word.
Using the pegs develops fine motor control too 👍🏻
Great for sorting words according to particular graphemes. This one was sorting ch, sh and th words. Your child picks up a sweet, reads the word and then puts it in the correct bag. Once you’ve sorted all the words you can count how many each teddy has and therefore prompt mathematical development. You could even talk about simple division. “There were 12 sweets and we shared them between three teddies how many did they get each?”
It’s amazing what you can find rooting through the back of the cupboard. These were left over bags, a scoop and sign from my wedding four years ago! You can just as easily use any bag and make your own sign together.
Help the Easter Bunny sort out his carrots. The carrots with the real words go in his basket. The carrots with the non-words go in the bin.
On the speech bubble you can see I have put sound buttons under the words that can be sounded out (phonetically decodable). The other words are tricky words and need to be learnt by sight and won’t have sound buttons.
Before you put out your recycling this is an easy one to set up.
This activity really tests your child’s decoding skills and ability to read non-words. These types of words form a large part of the phonics screening test at the end of Year 1. By explaining to your child that all of the words in the activity are rubbish (non words) means that they can really focus on decoding the word and not try to make it a real one.
Rip up and put out some cardboard, paper, envelopes, cleaned yogurt pots etc in order to create a fairly big pile of rubbish. On some of the rubbish write some non-words appropriate to the phase your child is working at. The words in the photos would be for children working in Phase 5. You could write the words really small, on the inside of pots or scrunched up paper, so they really do have to hunt for them. The job is to sort through the recycling, find items that have a word on them, read the word and then put it into the recycling truck (this could just be a recycling bin).
I made the pond using a cut up IKEA bag and put some stones around the edge and a couple of IKEA artifical plants. I then cut some lily pads out of green paper and made a few origami paper frogs. I thought that these might be quite tricky but there are lots of YouTube instruction videos and once you’ve done one they are actually pretty simple to fold. I’ll put a link in the comments for the one I used.
Tip – the smaller frogs jump better (these were from a square using half an A4 sheet).
Your child makes the frogs jump onto the lily pads. Whatever lily pad the frog lands on or near they read the word. Easily adapted for phase by adapting the words you write. You could have initial letters or tricky words. I wrote some Phase 4 words on them as the words ‘frog’, ‘jump’ ‘green’ ‘swim’ ‘float’ all have adjacent consonants and fit the theme. Another brilliant activity to exercise fine motor muscles too 👍🏻
A small world tray inspired by the popular story and has several activities on it that can be played in order to support phonic knowledge.
I created this by using a cut up IKEA bag (not the first time I’ve used this as part of a small world role play so definitely recommend it if you have one) and placed it down on the tray as the sea. I created an island for the lighthouse from stones and a bit of sand for the beach along with some wooden houses from a train set. I made the lighthouse by wrapping a Pringles tube in paper and drawing red stripes and a yellow beaker for the top. The basket is a yoghurt pot and I wrapped it in a bit of old rope and gave it cardboard handles. I added some ‘boats’ (word cards) into the sea with some topic words that are decodable for a child working in Phase 4. I then attached a bit of string from the lighthouse to the house just like in the book.
Three different phonics activities on this small word tray:
1. Your child writes a lunch request on a small bit of paper and then places it in the basket and pushes the basket down along the string to the house. You could give them a picnic basket of food to act as a bit of inspiration for this or if they are not at this stage of writing then have pre-written cards with lunch items. Your child reads the card and then puts it in the basket and pushes it down the string.
2. Using a small compact mirror (this acts like the light from the lighthouse). You say a word from the ‘boats’ in the sea and they move the mirror to reflect the sunlight onto the correct word. Take a look at the video in the comments for a little demonstration of this. It does need to be a sunny day to do this one. Adapt the words on the boat according to the phase your child is working. They could be tricky words too.
3. Read the words on the stones. You could have a pre written list of some decodable words taken from the book and your child works to build the words with the stones. I literally just wrote letters with marker pen on some stones in the garden.
My son has been talking about camping and building campfires for quite a while now so we made a small world campsite this afternoon (I’ll have to take him to do the real thing when we are allowed). It also gave me an excuse to make mini teepees. I’ve been wanting to try making them since I got the skewers for the DIY Kerplunk activity.
I just used an old towel for the grass, IKEA bag for the lake (yep, using it again), made the teepees by making a cone with paper and taping some skewers inside, the tent by taping some skewers into a tent structure and adding paper, a few Duplo people and a few small sticks and cut up elastic bands for the fire.
This activity supported my son to act out different scenarios, use his imagination, develop his vocabulary and his knowledge and understanding of the world. He loved just putting the people inside the tent and then getting them up to cook their breakfast on the campfire! Perfect for his age and stage of development.
If you have School aged children and want to give any small world role play a slight phonics twist write some letters, digraphs and trigraphs onto stones and then scatter the stones into the small world. Create a list of words to build using the stones. Your child segments and blends the word on the list and then finds the corresponding stones to build it.
A camping theme is ideal for children who are learning to read and spell words within Phase 4. Lots of camping topic words have adjacent consonants (camp, sleeping, tent, swim, spark, starlight, shelter). Adapt the graphemes on the stones though depending on the phase your child is working in.
Leave your child to continue role playing with the small world. Older children could write a sentence or story using the words that they have built.
My son has always loved farms and farm animals. In fact his first ‘words’ were “e, i, e, i, o”! His passion has been reignited recently as we’ve seen lots of tractors on the road and out harvesting the fields. A local farm even harvested their sunflowers a couple of weeks ago.
I thought I would go with his interests and set up this messy, sensory tray with a harvest theme and a spin on ‘I Spy. This not only prompted listening for initial sounds and letter recognition but also the chance to have a little discussion about crops that might grow and their produce.I stuck some letter cards down with tape to the bottom of the tray and then covered them with ‘crops’. I had oats, shredded wheat, popcorn, dyed rice, glass pebbles, paper sunflowers and a few potatoes and broad beans. Instead of initial letters you could have graphemes from Phase 3 and 5, decodable words or tricky words to discover. I also created a little ‘I spy’ sheet on a piece of cardboard so that my son could match the letters he found on the tray and also think about the initial sounds of some of the objects. Using the tractors my son ‘harvested the crops’ and thereby revealed the letter cards underneath. Once he had found all the letters and spotted them on the ‘I spy’ sheet he continued to role play; filling the farmers tractor and trailer and sorting out the crops.Note – I’ll put all the food items that we used into a zipped lock bag so that we can reuse them in another messy play at a later date.
I think I might have lost count with the amount of times I’ve watch Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures on Cbeebies! My son really, REALLY, loves the programme at the moment. The only saving grace is that it’s taken us away from Bing! I set up this activity so that he could role-play being on one of Andy’s adventures and dig up ‘dinosaur’ bones.A few different activities here that you could recreate to support your child’s developing phonic knowledge and they can all be adapted to suit each phase.1. I wrote some letters with a marker pen on some bone shaped dog biscuits, put them in a tray and hid them under some sand. Using a paintbrush my son brushed away the sand to find a bone and then he could match it to the letter on the card.2. I cut some letter shapes out of some squares of sandpaper. Using a finger my son could trace around the letter shape (a great sensory way to prompt recognition and formation) and then also form the letter with the dinosaur bones.3. Children in Phase 2 and above could collect the bones from the sand and use them to build words. If you put out a small bit of Playdough too they can press the bones into the dough to form the words and create fossil like prints. 4. Make small sound buttons out of Playdough and put them under words. Your child can use a dinosaur to print footprints into the dough as they say the sound. Print footprints into all the sound buttons under the word, say the sound and then they blend the sounds together at the end to say the whole word.
We live really far away from any beach. We’re looking at a couple of hours drive to get to our closest. Over the weekend we spent two whole days at one and we absolutely had a whale of a time. My nearly 4 year old was totally fascinated by the rock pools and spent lots of time exploring them.We’re back home now so I thought I would set up a little rock pool inspired sensory tray for him because he loved the real thing so much and I gave it a little phonics spin too. I used a circular mirrored tray for the base (this is great as it reflects the colour of the sky) and then added some large black pebbles that were really inexpensive from Home Bargains (49p per bag I think) and some little glass pebbles that I got from B&M. A few stones from the garden, water and a shell plus I foraged a little seaweed from the beach so I added this in too. You could use string, crepe paper, wool or dyed pasta to create seaweed instead. I had already written graphemes on some of the black pebbles with Tipp-Ex from the ‘Phonics Stone Stacking’ activity I posted a while back.
I drew out some beach themed pictures (crab, limpet, rock, seaweed) onto cardboard. My son could now investigate the rock pool, turn the stones over and see if he could find the corresponding initial sounds for the pictures. He really enjoyed searching for the stones with letters on, collecting them in a bucket and then rehiding them amongst the others in order to find again. Older children could find digraphs and trigraphs to complete beach themed words instead, for example turn a stone over and find ‘oo’ to complete the word ‘pool’.
Images © Phonics Family 2020