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Sunday, September 9, 2018

Rock Pool Pollution Sensory Tray

If you love all things mini then you'll love this environmental rock pool small world using mini supermarket items. It's a great way to teach children about the dangers rubbish causes to aquatic life in our oceans and also a great way to open a discussion about recycling and putting rubbish in the bin. 

Even if you don't have any mini food toys, you can still do the same activity with just little pieces of rubbish like bottle tops, plastic, straws and bread ties. This is also a great activity to do in April for Earth Day.

rock pool environmental small world

If you live in Australia and you shop at Coles {and most likely even if you don't shop there} you should have heard about the Coles Little Shop mini collectables over the last few weeks. For those who aren't aware they're a set of 30 miniature supermarket items that can be collected individually in blind bags each time you spend $30. They've caused a massive uproar because they were launched relatively close to the introduction of the single use plastic bag ban across the eastern states. 

Why eliminate plastic bags to replace them with useless plastic crap has been the catch phrase of numerous Australians across social media since their introduction. 

I can see where people are coming from in regards to the complaints about plastic, however I do think it was just an unfortunate case of bad timing. No doubt this national promotion was planned months in advance and coincidentally launched close to the plastic bag ban in some states. A genius marketing concept, but a PR nightmare {or perhaps not, any publicity is good publicity as they say}.

Controversy aside though, I have to put my hand up and admit I was always going to collect them. Normally I'm not a fan of plastic toys, but there's just something about little tiny versions of everyday items that's had me as excited as my 5yr old. I need to, I mean the girls need to, have them all... every single one

Educational ways to use miniature food brands in play

But what do you do with a bunch of mini plastic stuff once the adrenaline rush of collecting them is over? Contrary to popular opinion, they aren't useless at all, they can actually be quite educational. Learning through play is something I'm extremely passionate about and one of my favourite ways to inject some learning into our days is to do small world play with my girls. 

Small worlds are little real life environments that give children an opportunity to act out scenarios to help them process new concepts through play. The Coles minis are perfect for small world play because they're real life items and they're the perfect miniature size. 

The obvious choice for a mini collectables small world would be a supermarket, but I've come up with an idea that helps use these little bits of plastic to help educate children why plastic is bad for the environment. Yes I see the irony. 

Rubbish and the environment have been keen areas of interest for my 5yr old lately and this has been one of the most thought provoking small world scenes I've ever done with her, so I thought I would share it so you can recreate it, or your own version, with your children too.

Please note this activity is not recommended for children under 3, or those who are still mouthing, as some items may pose a choking risk. Full adult supervision is required.

Rock Pool Pollution Sensory Tray

Play tray with seal animals, rubbish and miniature supermarket items.

What you will need:

For our small world I went with a rock pool theme using animals found in shallow water relatively close to the shore, so it would be easier for my 5yr old to understand how they could get entangled in litter dumped by people at the beach. You could of course use any marine animal figurines. 

To set up the small world I first placed all the rubbish, animal figurines and mini collectables into the tray. In a separate container I mixed a few drops of blue food dye with some water then filled the tray with the water. I made ours quite shallow because I didn't want it being splashed everywhere {which eventually always happens}.

octopus tangled in rubbish

turtle trapped in rubbish

I used a mixture of real rubbish which I knew my daughter would recognise {clear plastic, part of a milk bottle lid, a twisty tie and cut up straws} and the mini collectables to represent the dumped rubbish. I knew the collectables would entice her to play and the household rubbish would make the experience even more real for her. 

I deliberately chose mainly drinks as they're more likely to be dumped at the beach. Please be aware the stickers on the minis may peel off after being in the water and the cardboard ones will disintegrate, so don't use your most cherished ones as they may get damaged {or use a dry sensory material like dyed rice, coconut or beans as a substitute for water}. If you don't have any of the Coles minis you can substitute with Shopkins Real Littles or Mini Brands.

I included a pair of tweezers and handy scoopers with our set up to encourage her to remove the rubbish and rescue the animals. I left it up to her to choose which one she used, or if she wanted to use them at all. You could use tongs or a ladle as a substitute or they can just use their hands.

When I first brought out the tray we had a conversation about how it's really bad for the environment and animals when people throw rubbish into the beach instead of in the bin. She was naturally curious so this lead to discussions about the type of rubbish and how each animal had been affected, where the rubbish should have gone instead and we counted how many pieces of rubbish was in the ocean. 

She then used the handy scooper to remove all the rubbish and rescue the animals {added scissor skill practice without the need for scissors}. There was also a lot of imaginary play with the animals and she repeatedly put the rubbish in and out of the tray freeing the animals each time. 

You can see our actual play in this post on Instagram {swipe across for videos}. There are so many learning opportunities from this small world, depending on how your child plays with it. I love open ended, child led play and will usually answer and ask questions based on topics she naturally brings up while playing.

Learning Opportunities

  • Environmental awareness
  • Categorising types of rubbish {recycling, non recyclable}
  • Language development
  • Animal facts{names, what they eat etc}
  • Fine motor skills {removing the rubbish}
  • Hand/eye co-ordination
  • Hypothesising {how did the rubbish get there, how can it hurt the animals}
  • Imaginary play
  • Sensory play
  • Counting

Ocean pollution small world tray.

If you recreate this small world I'd love for you to share and tag me {@finding_myself_young} on Instagram so I can see it. To keep up to date with my latest posts and play activities you can sign up to my email list or follow me on Instagram, Pinterest & Facebook. I'd also love for you to join parents from all around the world in our Facebook community.

Disclosure - Some affiliate links have been included for your convenience which means I may earn a small commission, at no cost to you, should you choose to make a purchase. I am in no way affiliated with Coles or the Coles Little Shop promotion.

Would you like to comment?

  1. This is the most interesting idea of I have read so far. Well done.

    I admit I have collected them for my granddaughter who has just turned one. I am looking forward to her playing with them.

  2. What a great way to use the Coles Collectables. Playing shops with them is the obvious use but your idea is even more educational.

  3. Much better than them ending up in landfill! Great idea, Toni!