Fun at Home with Kids

Simple Small Worlds: Insect World

Friday, April 5, 2013

Safari Ltd provided me with their Insect TOOB free of charge, but all opinions expressed in this post are my own and were not influenced by the free product since I already loved their products!

One of the things that S and I find super fascinating about insects is their ability to walk on walls!  It's always so impressive to watch them scale the walls of whatever container we've placed them in for observation - so I wanted to bring that element into this small world.  To that end, I cut strips of contact paper and lined the inside walls of the world with it.  I flipped each strip sticky side up and used scotch tape along the edges to keep it in place.  It really added a cool element to the small world, I think.  (A roll of contact paper is around $5 and you can read about some other ways that we've played with it here, here, and here.)

Insects are everywhere, in all sorts of different environments, so this is a great small world to make with  gathered natural materials from the yard/surrounding areas of your house.  Whether you live in a forest like us, or near a beach, or in a big city, a rural area, or a desert - any of the materials you find outside are things that make up your insects' environment!

For the materials in the bin, I took a walk around the perimeter of our house and gathered interesting supplies.  I clipped a branch off one of our Western Red Cedar trees, grabbed some cool looking large stones, and a patch of moss.  

Though you can absolutely use dirt from outside (or grass or whatever other material!), I like to "recycle" our old coffee grinds into "dirt" because I feel like the grounds are less messy and look prettier than real dirt.  My system for accumulating used coffee grounds is to lay the wet grounds flat on a sheet pan and let them air dry for 24 hours.  From there I transfer them to an open Gladware container.  You could also dry them in the oven on very low heat if you wanted to be faster about it.  You'll see me use our coffee ground dirt in other posts (I just haven't written them up yet).  It also doesn't hurt that they smell faintly of coffee.  Yum.

I also grabbed some smaller polished stones that I'd bought a bag of (I think at the Dollar Store?) and keep in a container for sensory play to add some more detail to the world.

S really enjoyed the sticky walls and had lots of fun sticking and unsticking the various bugs. 

I liked the different textural elements in the world - hard stones, scaly tree branch, gritty coffee ground dirt, and soft moss.

Here caterpillar is going for a little walk.  He's thinking he might want to climb the wall!

There he goes!  We love that Safari Ltd miniatures are perfectly sized for little hands.

The colors are so vibrant and the models are so realistic.  This is the only way I'd let S touch a centipede!  In real life those suckers are mean!!!!  

S enjoyed taking all the little bugs on a tour of their environment.

After taking turns with most of the insects, she decided that centipede was her favorite (probably because she isn't allowed to hold the real creatures).

Here she's having a heart-to-heart with centipede about reforming his aggressive biting ways (did you know that a real centipede bite is rumored to be comparable to a bee sting?  Ouch!).  She told me he'd decided to be nice to her and his other insect friends and was not going to bite!  She played with him for around an hour.  And I'm happy to report that, true to his word, he did not bite her.  ;)

S was so enamored with the two butterflies that came in the Insect TOOB that they'd (earlier) flown away to another area of our house and we almost forgot to include them in our photo shoot!  So we decided they would make a quick visit to insect world before Mama put away her camera.  Here they're sunning themselves on the rocks.  With such vibrantly colored wings, it's no wonder S spirited them away!

The cohesive groups of creatures presented in Safari Ltd TOOBS always inspire me to incorporate books with our small world play.  Here's S investigating a book from our insect book round-up.  :)

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All activities here are activities I feel are safe for my own children.  As your child's parents/guardians, you will need to decide what you feel is safe for your family.  I always encourage contacting your child's pediatrician for guidance if you are not sure about the safety/age appropriateness of an activity. All activities on this blog are intended to be performed with adult supervision.  Appropriate and reasonable caution should be used when activities call for the use of materials that could potentially be harmful, such as scissors, or items that could present a choking risk (small items), or a drowning risk (water activities), and with introducing a new food/ingredient to a child (allergies).  Observe caution and safety at all times.  The author and blog disclaim liability for any damage, mishap, or injury that may occur from engaging in any of these activities on this blog.


  1. The contact paper idea is pure genius! You are so creative!

    1. Thank you, Kristin! Hahaha - I was pretty proud of myself for thinking of it. :)

  2. I agree about the contact paper. What a creative (and awesome) idea! I also like the idea of using coffee grounds for dirt. The smell would add another sensory element.

    Clearly, I LOVE this post!

    1. Thank you! And aren't the coffee grounds just plain prettier than dirt? So glad you liked it! :)

  3. Many of the ideas here are also good for miniature gardens. I'm pinning this to my miniature gardens pinterest board.

    1. I hadn't thought of that! Thank you for the pin! I love the idea of miniature gardens!!! :)

  4. You small worlds are so thoughtful and nicely done! I absolutely love them!

    How long does your daughter has played for with the small world? How old was she?
    For some reason my son does not play with the small worlds for more than 10 minutes (we tried Frog World and Insects World so far). He is almost 3 and I am not sure if it is because of age or it is just boys thing to play with things that have wheels or move. He is actually more fascinated while I am preparing the worlds for him and helping me out than playing with them.

    I liked the contact paper idea a lot too but unfortunately our contact paper did not hold the insects well - just for few seconds before they fall off. We used same brand of it as referenced in the post just did not get it from Amazon but from local Hobby Lobby store.

    1. Thank you so much! My daughter would play for hours with these, but I suspect that your son is too young. I would try again in 6 months or so. Once you notice him telling stories as he plays - that's a good time to reintroduce them. And bummer about the contact paper - was it particularly warm or humid that day? I wonder if something was affecting the stickiness... So sorry they haven't worked out for you yet. I suspect that once your son is a bit older he'll begin playing with them for longer.

    2. Thank you for your reply Asia! I thought I have seen somewhere on your blog that you daughter has played for like 4 hours with one of the small worlds. That is why I suspected 10 minutes was a little bit on a smaller side. I will retry in a few months - I enjoy replicating small worlds and hope that my son will enjoy playing with them. Especially that your worlds are so lovely and easy to make.

      You are absolutely right about contact paper - that was a hot and humid day - maybe that's why they did not stick well. Hopefully it will work better with the crafts or on colder days.