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Today we’re showing you how to make a sandbox small world to encourage imaginary play. Preschoolers will love this activity, I found it kept my daughter busy for a long time.

This small world idea is super easy to set up at home – no backyard sandpit necessary!

This activity was originally created in 2014 and has been updated and re-shared for today’s audience

You might also like our dinosaur small world in a suitcase

  sandbox small world play idea for kids

My preschooler loves all kinds of sensory play. In particular, she loves playing with sand and it can be very hard to convince her to get out of the sandpit when it’s time to go home. We have no sandbox in our back yard, which makes sand play even more appealing to her.

This sandbox small world is a project that she and I made together using an upcycled wooden tray for the base. We added a few things we had floating around the house and turned the sandbox into a miniature garden with a path, a pond and a little wooden bridge.

Our sandbox small world was an unplanned, spur-of-the-moment activity. We needed something to do on a weekday afternoon whilst big sis was at school so we gathered the supplies together and Miss K and I set to work building our pretend world.

How to make a sandbox small world

items needed to make a small world for imaginary play

You will need:

  • A tray – it does not have to be wooden, you can use any tray including a baking tray or disposable foil tray. A large plastic tub would be less messy if you are working indoors
  • Sand – we used a bag of sand we had in the garage for gardening
  • Pebbles or small rocks
  • Craft sticks
  • Foil
  • Plastic gems
  • Pine cones or twigs and leaves from the garden
  • Small toys to live in the world

How to:

  1. Fill the tray with sand, leaving a hole in the middle for a lake.
  2. Mold a piece of aluminum foil into an irregular shallow bowl shape to create the lake. Place this in the centre of the sand and pat the sand up around it.
  3. Fill the lake with blue acrylic gems, glass beads or even water from the tap.
  4. Line the outside of the lake with the river stones, then create a craft stick bridge over the top.
  5. Create a path from the remaining river stones.
  6. For the finishing touch, we added some pine cone trees which we’d previously decorated for Christmas ornaments. If you have no pine cones on hand you could use sprigs of leaves you’ve gathered from the garden.

adding sand to the small world tray

pre school imaginary play idea

All that was left to do was add toys. Miss K selected three of her favourites which happened to be a baby duck, a mini dinosaur and an enormous turtle, haha.

how to make a small world in a sandbox - a fun imaginary play idea for kids

small world play in a sandbox – how to make a sandbox small world at home

how to make a small world in a sandbox - a fun imaginary play idea for kids

I think the toys liked the lovely new world we made for them, and Miss K really enjoyed playing with it.

More small world ideas for kids

Stock up on small world supplies


small world play in a sandbox – how to make a sandbox small world at home