I am such a big fan of simple invitation to play which can promote the French language!
What a better way to make learning French fun than by setting up small world trays?
So, how do you get started? How can you set these small world trays up? In this article, I will share some tips on how to get started and show you how so incredibly easy they are to set up.
Most of the times, you will already have the items required around your house, and I will show you how they can be inexpensive to set up. I also know how incredibly busy life can get, and that’s why I love these small world trays so much: they are quick to set up and can entertain our kids for long periods of time – oui oui!
Something to set it up on or in
First and foremost, you need to pick something to set it up or in. You could use a train table, an Ikea sensory table with tubs, a kitchen dish, a tray, a container, or anything you want really.
I personally use a kitchen metal tray for our small plays. They are easy to handle, deep enough to create a small world, and the right size for my pre-schooler, but any old container will do the trick.
Let’s now dive into how you can create your own small play trays.
01 The Base
This is the kids’ favourite part – the sensory element of the small play world! The base is what makes it interesting to play with. Children learn through their sensory senses, so you really need to nail that part and think it through depending on your chosen theme.
The possibilities are limitless when it comes to picking up the materials for the base. I am personally not fond of using rice, pasta, chickpeas or peas for the kids to play.
I mean, we are a French household after all and food is so important. One of the first things we teach French kids from a very young age is not to play with food (the famous phrase: “ne joues pas avec la nourriture”).
I find it inconsistent to then set up these small worlds using common food items. This is just my opinion and you are of course welcome to use whatever materials you want as the base.
The blue foam like is aquafaba used to represent the ocean.
I list below the materials we commonly use as the base:
- Aquafaba: this is probably the most used base around here! I hate the thought of throwing things out, so I found a way to use the drained water from canned or cooked chickpeas. We eat a lot of chickpeas and instead of draining the water in the sink, I keep it and make aquafaba following these easy steps.
- Kinetic sand (like this one ) or sand from the sandpit or the beach
- Water beads
- Small garden pebbles
- Dirt from the garden or the park if you don’t have a garden
- Oobleck (mix 2 cups of cornstarch to 1 cup of water into a bowl, and mix until your oobleck is formed – you can add food colouring too for a coloured oobleck).
- Agar agar gelatine (mix 1 tablespoon of agar agar powder like this one with 2 cups of coloured water, pour it in your container, add your figurines and loose parts, and let it dry overnight)
- Playdough in various colours
- Coloured water dyed with just a drop or two of food dyes like these ones (note, that we recently had a drought affecting the whole of Australia and as a result, I was reluctant to use too much water and used this opportunity to teach my son the importance of water in so many countries)
- Ice cubes (coloured ice cubes, ice cubes with figurines to rescue, etc)
- Dyed pasta, rice, peas or corn which are past their expiration date (not often used in our household for the reasons mentioned earlier)
02 The loose parts
The second step is adding your loose parts to enhance the base and create a décor. A variety of items can be used here so try thinking outside of the box to repurpose things you already have around the house or in your cupboards.
In the image above, I used decorative leaves and a cave toy
Here are some ideas to engage play:
- Aquarium loose parts: caves, rocks, underwater items, fake plants, etc. We have this set
- Loose parts from nature: shells, pebbles, twigs, grass, leaves, flowers, small branches, algae’s, gum nuts, etc. Alternatively, you can also buy natural loose parts from the shops which will last a lot longer like these ones for example. We personally go outside with a bucket and pick these up as we go. I keep them aside and use them later when setting up a small play tray. My son is a lot more engaged when I add items he has picked himself up!
- Fake plants or moss pebbles like these ones
- You can also make extra things using salt dough or clay. For example, I made a shape of a volcano to add to a small play tray, dinosaur bones, planets, etc. This is versatile and if you are a little bit crafty, you can make anything really!
- Bits and bobs: buttons, feathers, glass pebbles, beads, etc
03 The main figurines
Once you have set up your base with your décor, simply add some figurines in-line with your theme, or in-line with the vocabulary you want your child to learn and practice. These figurines help to add new vocabulary in a fun way.
In the image above I used farm animal figurines
- Animal figurine – we buy ours from Schleich and Toobs and love them. They are a great investment but can turn out expensive. We pretty much have all types of animals ranging from jungle, ocean, dinosaur, farm and wild animals. We built our little collection up over time and found many second hands which still look as new. That’s how good the quality is!
- Any types of vehicles: small trains, cars or construction vehicles are always a big hit!
- Insect figurines like the ones from Wild Republic here or here
- Little people figurines (or painted peg dolls like these ones)
- The list goes on!
The list goes on!
You can also add some utensils on the side such as bowls, scoops, spoons, etc to explore the base even more! Remember to use this sensory play as an opportunity to discuss with your child in French by encouraging the use of new words, talking about the materials, and repeating familiar words and phrases.
Have fun now!
I hope these tips encourage you to incorporate French into sensory play in different ways to make learning French fun!
Do you have any other recommendations to help your child learn French, or have any questions? We’d love to hear from you below.