If you’re looking for a fun and easy way to entertain a toddler or preschooler, set up a “small world” activity bin for them to play with and explore.
This teeny-tiny ocean activity bin kept my daycare hooligans busy for close to an hour one morning. It’s hard to believe something so small would hold their attention for so long, but the little animals and objects encouraged imaginative play, and the water and aquarium rocks provided a wonderful sensory element to their play.
A little bin like this is wonderful for a warm day on the patio or even a rainy day indoors if you set it up on a towel or a plastic table cloth.
This activity is perfect for one child, but as you’ll see in the photos, 3 of my preschoolers had no problem gathering around this very small set-up to share, explore and play together.
You can choose whatever theme you’d like for your small bin. Check out these bins that we’ve made in the past if you’d like some inspiration:
To make our ocean activity bin today, we used:
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- small pyrex baking dish
- aquarium gravel
- Sea shells
- Small plastic sea animals and deep-sea divers
- small stones
Most of the above supplies can be found at dollar store or a craft store like Michaels or Hobby Lobby, but I’ve included links to the products on Amazon if you want the convenience of shopping online.
To set up our bin:
I simply filled the glass dish with water, and poured the aquarium gravel in, and spread it around the bottom of the dish.
Then I added some stones and shells, and placed the animals and our deep-sea diver in the bin. I presented it to the girls, and the fun began.
They loved the feel of the aquarium gravel, and the sound that it made as they swished their animals around in the bin. Placing and rearranging the sea shells and rocks in the gravel was fun too.
The cool water felt lovely considering it was such a warm morning.
And of course there was lots of interaction between the children as they played.
A small world helps to build language skills as the kids make animal sounds, and as the characters in the bin communicate with each other. It also encourages sharing and co-operating between the children who are playing.
Small world play is also terrific for sparking the imagination. The kids dream up all kinds of play scenarios – emergency rescues, animal families, and character conflicts.
What an easy and inviting way to keep little ones learning and having fun!
Looking for more fun and inexpensive ways to keep the kids cool and having fun this summer?
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Jackie is a mom, wife, home daycare provider, and the creative spirit behind Happy Hooligans. She specializes in kids’ crafts and activities, easy recipes, and parenting. In 1997, Jackie stepped out of the corporate world to start a family and to open her own home daycare. She began blogging in 2011, and today, Happy Hooligans inspires more than 2 million parents, caregivers and Early Years Professionals all over the globe.