Small world sensory play is an important part of early learning.
Making a miniature scene, within a sensory experience, adds more than just the typical use of senses to the sensory discovery. It offers an added tool for children to use their imagination and develop verbal language skills. While most children play with a miniature scene, they narrate and add voice to the materials. Children also reenact stories or life events, use rich vocabulary, strengthen memory and develop important sequencing skills.
While the actual materials would be ideal, sometimes it may not be possible.
Our previous small world sensory play table followed our dinosaur theme and offered a very different sensory experience than what's set out for the first winter themed table. As I mention in each sensory table post, I don't repeat a sensory filler throughout the school year, offering unique experiences each time. Bringing in a winter themed sensory table requires a lot more creativity, due to our location. Ideally, real snow would be the ultimate sensory experience for this table. However, we live in the desert and it almost never reaches a temperature capable of accumulating snow on the ground. Most of my scholars may never experience falling or freshly fallen snow during their childhood.
Soft, fluffy, freshly fallen snow can be easily copied (minus the cold) by using Buffalo Snow.
Buffalo Snow is readily available during the holiday season and is most often used in miniature winter display scenes. Buffalo Snow makes a variety of products, but I've found that the Snow Flurries product works well for the main base of the table filler. Its soft, fluffy and can feel similar to freshly fallen powder. To add in the crystal sparkles of fresh snow, gleaming in the sunlight, I add Buffalo Snow Flakes. The flakes are iridescent and add a bit of glittery dimension when you look at the snow flurries in just the right light, or angle.
A snowy landscape wouldn't be complete without Arctic and Antarctic animals.
Although polar bears and penguins wouldn't be found living together, they are representations of species that live in the polar regions of both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. I use this sensory table and a mini lesson to introduce planet Earth. We will be going into further detail of Earth and the other planets of our solar system, when my scholars return from Winter Break. Finding something to tie themes together, further engages students by giving them something to recall, find familiar and verbally share with their peers.
The landscape, in which our small world takes place, needed to offer more materials of different textures. I repurposed non recyclable styrofoam, cutting it into various shapes to make movable and stackable ice sheets/icebergs. Bottle brush trees not only add a very uncommon sensory encounter, they add color to an otherwise monotone landscape. I specifically chose trees in two different shades of green, for color variation. Miniature Christmas tree snowflake ornaments are camouflaged treasures, lightly sprinkled around the table filler. I simply clipped off the strings and the tiny loops that held them.
The sensory tools are just as important as the filler.
For each sensory table experience, I try to bring my scholars back to rediscover the table during the second week by adding or replacing tools. During the first week of the Winter Wildlife table, I offer repurposed measurement scoops, with thin handles. During the second week, I add repurposed clear containers, with large holes drilled through the lids. For the flurries to fall through the DIY shakers, the holes need to be very large. I don't add the flurries to the shakers myself, I leave them for my scholars to discover and use their skills to unscrew and screw back on the lid. Some of my scholars may struggle with the task, but that gives them the opportunity to communicate with their peers, asking for assistance from them before coming to me.
It may be a bit messy, but its a unique sensory adventure.
Offering a wide variety of sensory materials is extremely important in childhood development. The more diverse the sensory experiences, the stronger the brain connections become. Its important to realize that messy is just as important as contained. When you can watch your student's encounter a new sensory experience, that they may not have the opportunity to experience in the future, its magical.
You can find my Amazon Picks to complete the Winter Wildlife Small World Sensory Table, below: