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EYFS Our school’s local area: ‘Small world’

EYFS blocks

What do we know is in our local area? Photo © Shutterstock


Small world play is often found in Early Years classrooms. Developing this area of provision with pupils gives them agency in their new classroom space, pupils need to have knowledge of possible play opportunities and sequences to access small world play. Basing small world play around their local area will mean pupils develop vocabulary they can use every day but also naturally develops towards three-dimensional map making opportunities. Having a permanent area for local area small world play provides many opportunities for learning about local geography and building on personal experiences.

Links to Understanding the world

  • Support children to make sense of their physical world and community
  • Developing understanding and knowledge about the lives of people around them and in the wider community
  • Build on children’s personal experiences to develop knowledge.


Links to other areas of the EYFS

  • Physical development: Large- and small-scale play, manipulating objects and the sensory experiences of interacting with water provide opportunities for the development of gross and fine motor skills
  • Expressive arts and design – repetition, creating narratives through play
  • Communication and language: story-telling and role play.


Starting points

You will need:

  • A defined area of your provision, a tray or surface
  • Large cardboard sheet or another base
  • Small world resources to reflect your school’s context and community and reflect everyday experiences
  • Mark-making resources to encourage pupils to develop the area further
  • Photographs of the immediate area around your school.


Activity idea: ‘Small world’

Find out what pupils know about the area immediately surrounding your school. What do they see on their way to school? This area is likely to be very familiar to the pupils, but they may pass through it every day without noticing the details. This learning sequence builds on pupils’ experiences to create a small world play area.

If possible, organise to walk around the local area to experience this first-hand, or an alternatively use some photographs from the local area to discuss as a virtual fieldtrip or use mapping software to explore the area together. As a circle time activity, add the photos of the local area to create a shared ‘map’ of the school, so that you create a map of the areas immediately surrounding the school. Talk about the different types of buildings and land and what these spaces are used for, such as parks and play spaces, fields, houses, villages, roads, cycle paths, shops, schools, offices and services. This will be personal to your context and community.

Use the shared map to create a small world ‘local area’ space to play

  • Create a base, or use a tray for your small world.
  • Use a cardboard box to represent the school and add further buildings to represent the local area.
  • Different surfaces can represent different land uses – artificial grass, carpet offcuts, fabric, cardboard, scarves.
  • Pupils can use Lego models, small boxes, plants, and draw roads and houses to add details about the local area.
  • Display the real images of the area around the school next to the small world resources so that pupils can incorporate those spaces into their play.
  • You can incorporate real-life scenarios into the play – if there are roadworks outside the school, or a new housing estate is built, or a shop closes, add them to your small world area so that pupils can build on their experiences through play.
  • Once constructed, local area small world play can become a permanent fixture in your classroom, which can be added to and revisited through the year. You could add seasonal changes such as fallen leaves, ploughed fields or snow, decorations for festivals and celebrations.
  • Tell stories about the local area, as simple as ‘on my way to work or school today I saw…’ to encourage ideas for play.
  • Create further small world areas based on places you learn about, such as if you study another area or part of the world in your curriculum – this will provide a place for pupils to explore similarities and differences.
  • Colleagues in nearby schools could also create a local area small world, take photographs and compare what this shows us about the areas, what is the same and what looks different?


How to make this successful

  • Model and scaffold play sequences that will relate to pupils’ experiences, to encourage them to revisit these in their own play.
  • Create the area as a permanent play space in your classroom but add frequent changes to reflect changes in the physical world.
  • Look for opportunities for new vocabulary development.
  • Imaginative and symbolic play may need modelling for some pupils who will need support to access the play, having an adult to play alongside at first may provide reassurance and model possibilities.
  • Pupils are more likely to take care of the space if it is valued by everyone including adults, referred to frequently in teaching and if adults initiate taking care of the space.


Ideas to build on knowledge

  • Expand the area for your small world to include places a little further afield that you might talk about or visit during the Early Years
  • Vocabulary planning: plan which new words might pupils need to know and record ideas for developing interactions.


Primary Geography/Teaching Geography/Geography articles

Owens, P. Rotchell, E. Sprake, S. and Witt, S. on behalf of the GA Early Years and Primary Phase Committee (2022) ‘Geography in the Early Years: Guidance for doing wonderful and effective geography with young pupils’, Primary Geography, 109, pp. 19-22.


This Teaching Resource was written for the Geographical Association by Sarah Sprake.

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