Woodland Forest Small World Play (Math and Literacy embedded in Play)

Our youngest learners have spent many hours playing with this woodland forest small world play sensory tray. What’s more than natural materials and loose parts for open-ended play lies an opportunity to think more deeply about literacy and numeracy.

Naturally, adults would see this provocation as an invitation for children to share stories with lots of oral language opportunities. However, what we have appreciated about this playful provocation is that it engages our youngest learners in thinking about numeracy as well.


I’m a big advocate of subitizing in the early years. Doug Clements explains subitizing as instantly seeing how many. Subitizing allows us to see numbers as sets. Children need to be able to subitize before they can add and subtract, otherwise they remain counting all. Often our team will put dots on natural materials so that children will begin to think about subitizing and seeing numbers as sets. Some of the math children were working on was ordering the dot mushrooms and rocks, skip counting, and doubles. Some children incorporated numbers into their stories simply because the materials in front of them. So far children have been independently counting all with this provocation. However, when prompted by an educator, children have been challenged to count on(while adding). Have you thought about including subitizing dots in your small world and sensory play?

Children Adding their own Tools

Some of the children added measuring cups and spoons for tools. We allow children to self-select their tools for play. The exciting addition of measurement tools created a chance for them to initiate constructing their learning on measurement (i.e. more/less, full, same). We added some tree blocks to entice our “engineers”(who enjoy building) in fictional play.


What’s in the tray? Gnome home (made out of a hot chocolate can), tree blocks, rocks, dots mushrooms, plastic woodland animals, trees (for Christmas scenes), dime size wood coins, tree(artificial plant stuck in a wood cookie), pines cones, and moong beans for our base.  We found these fun beans at the grocery store called, “moong beans”. The children described them as, “cold”, “little”, “soft” and “smooth”. They loved raking their fingers through the soft beans.

For more information on subitizing:

Doug Clements: http://gse.buffalo.edu/fas/clements/files/subitizing.pdf

Christina Tondevold: http://www.therecoveringtraditionalist.com/subitizing/


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