I love teaching an ocean theme. It doesn’t seem to matter the age, nearly every child I’ve every worked with has had some interest in learning about the ocean. For my son who just turned two, this means some ocean small world play.
This ocean sensory bin offers young children a world of hands-on learning about the beloved real life topic of the ocean! Older children also often enjoy water table activities, so this ocean themed sensory activity can be used at home for all ages!
Ocean Sensory Play Ideas with Small World
The sound of crashing waves, the smell of the salty sea air, the wet sand beneath your toes…there is nothing like a day at the ocean. The ocean is its own playground, just waiting to be discovered! If only the phrase “life’s a beach” were actually true…we could spend all our days carefree with our toes in the sand. Unfortunately, most of us can not just run off to the ocean every day.
But, we can bring the ocean into our homes and classrooms for our children! And, it’s actually a lot less messy and sometimes even MORE relaxing than a day at the beach. If your days at the beach with your kids are completely stress-free and relaxing, then please share your secrets in the comments!
My most recent day at the beach with my kids? It was full of approximately 14 sandy trips to the not-so-pristine restroom….yes, 14! Followed by the consumption of approximately 27 snacks….yes, 27! Naturally, it included some wet sand flying in the air (accidentally?) and hitting one of my children, splat in the face!
Which then led to said child (accidentally?) “returning” that sand to his sibling. I am sure you can imagine the rest. Those are just a few of the “highlights” of the day!
Of course, the kids played to their hearts’ content in the sand, in the waves, and even discovered some sand crabs. We watched and learned about the changing tides and ended it all with the most beautiful sunset sinking below the water.
So, it certainly was not ALL trying! But, I think I would be stretching the truth a bit if I used the word “relaxing” to describe the entirety of that day.
The beauty of an ocean small world sensory bin is that your kids can learn, play, and discover for hours, with no sand trapped in their swimsuits or flying at their siblings. They can learn right in the comfort of their home or classroom and still make their own special discoveries!
I think you will be amazed at how long this sensory play will captivate your young learners. The ocean is theirs to discover and discover, they will!
Be sure to check out all out other small world ideas at the end of this post.
FAQ About Teaching an Ocean Theme for Preschool
Read, explore, and play! Begin by asking the children what questions they have about the ocean or something that they want to learn more about. Devote time to learning about aquatic animals, and their special characteristics. Help children identify what they might see at the ocean shore such as sea shells, seaweed, or sand.
Consider introducing an ocean sensory bin for children to interact, play, and learn with. Play dough is also a fun hands-on learning activity for an ocean or beach theme, too.
Preschoolers should be able to: recognize and identify different kinds of common ocean animals, share a few details about various ocean creatures, recognize that some animals are large predators (sharks and killer whales) while others are bottom feeders, compare animals that live in the ocean/those that don’t, and understand that the ocean produces over half of the world’s oxygen.
It’s also important that we teach our young children to keep the ocean trash-free and support efforts to recycle and reuse.
Help preschoolers understand that the ocean needs our help. Keep plastic out of the ocean by using reusable drinking and lunch containers. Participate in an ocean/body of water cleanup. Invite the preschoolers to brainstorm ways that they can help the ocean and ocean animals for our future.
How to Use a Small World Sensory Bin in Your Ocean Theme
Small worlds are a really great way to help your toddlers and preschoolers engage in pretend play. Pretend play is so important for young kids because it helps them learn about the world and themselves.
The best part? This small world ocean sensory bin will take just a few minutes to set up and can keep your little ones busy all afternoon!
Materials for Ocean Small World
- sensory tub or water table
- glass floral gems
- natural floral rocks (medium sized)
- ocean animal toys
The Set Up
The set up for this ocean water table activity is really quite simple! Once you have gathered up the materials listed above, just follow a few simple steps and your sensory table will be ready to go!
Pour the glass floral gems in one end of the sensory tub, and the natural floral rocks in the other. I arranged the black and brown rocks to feel like land, and the green and blue floral gems to feel like underwater structures. Then I added about two inches of water and the ocean animal toys.
Now, invite your preschooler or toddler to join you in some ocean pretend play!
How to Use a Small World for Sensory Play
My son was immediately drawn to the ocean small world. Given his age, I supervised him closely due to the floral gems being a choking hazard and given the water. Never leave your child unattended during small world and sensory play.
He jumped right in to some imaginative play! Being the boy he is, he was immediately drawn to the shark, which quickly began growing and eating the other animals in the small world.
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After allowing my son some time to play, I did challenge him to find specific animals in the small world. He is still unfamiliar with most, but when I told him the name of each animal he willingly repeated it. As a means of making some meaningful connections, you could also help your kiddos find some of the ocean animals in a favorite ocean-themed book.
There was plenty of splashing, and more of the shark eating other animals, perhaps due to the book we checked out from the library called A Hole in the Bottom of the Sea [With Audio CD] which we read several times and also came with an animated version of the book we watched on the computer.
Tips for Creating Engaging Small World Play
Clearly, small world play experiences are an enriching and engaging part of early childhood learning. I am going to share some of my favorite tips for making this sensory play experience educational, safe, and stress-free:
- Create a specific and consistent work space that is designated for small world play
- You could set it up outside, weather permitting
- For at-home use, you could put the bin in your bath tub (be sure to put a strainer over the plug)
- Limit the number of children that can play at one time (you can have a sign that designates how many and set up this expectation in your classroom)
- Be sure to supervise this activity as it does involve small objects and water
- Use your creativity and extend the activity at any time by adding elements that lend themselves to similar/related themes (ie: for ocean you could change the emphasis to: arctic animals, tide pools, or coral reefs)
The Benefits of Pretend Play in Early Childhood Education
The world is their classroom. For toddlers and preschoolers, this rings true every single day. Their brains are like sponges, soaking up new information all the time. Pretend play is crucial in these early years for many reasons, with the all-encompassing theme being that pretend play is how young children learn about themselves and the world. There are many benefits to pretend play, including:
- making connections and synthesizing information
- using problem-solving and higher order thinking skills
- developing vocabulary, language, and communication skills
- developing social and emotional intelligence
- learning about likes/dislikes, interests, etc.
- using creativity and imagination
- learning to work with others
- gross and fine motor development
This small world is simple. You probably have everything on hand you need to create this realistic underwater world. For a toddler, like my son, this it is the perfect learning activity to playfully reinforce concepts he is learning about the ocean.
You might just be surprised by how long this ocean small world will hold your children’s attention. Don’t hesitate! Dive into some fantastic ocean fun today!
Don’t Forget Ocean Picture Books
More Small World Play Ideas
Don’t forget to check out all the other A-Z small worlds from the beginning of the alphabet to the end! Click on the photo below to be taken to the landing page with the entire collection! You will find more water table ideas as well as a wide range of sensory activity fun!
>>> A-Z Small World Play Series <<<
I’m Sarah, an educator turned stay-at-home-mama of five! I’m the owner and creator of Stay At Home Educator, a website about intentional teaching and purposeful learning in the early childhood years. I’ve taught a range of levels, from preschool to college and a little bit of everything in between. Right now my focus is teaching my children and running a preschool from my home. Credentials include: Bachelors in Art, Masters in Curriculum and Instruction.
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