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Let’s Talk Play by Jana Zilic @52weeksofmum

Reflecting back on my childhood, I can identify that the most memorable and enjoyable moments did not involve technology or the latest “must have” device. They were centred around imagination and play. My siblings and I would often strip the pantry bare and use the cans and boxes to create our own mini supermarket (eggs cartons make a great cash register)We would press flowers in old books and create collages when they had dried out. We would put water in buckets and throw in flour and turn it to goo. We turned paper plates into animal face masks and used material scraps and nature to decorate our cardboard box doll houses.

Somewhere along the way, play time with our children has become overcomplicated. Is it the vast array of images and ads being posted on social media platforms? It is because screen time has become equal to or more favoured than playtime? Or are we just really time poor?  Or, is it that feeling of guilt when your child will only actively participate in an activity for only a few minutes, when we spend hours (sometimes days) thinking and constructing?

Play should not be stressful for you or your child and it does not need to be consuming of your time or your money.
Small worlds and play trays are a great way for your children to play, learn, create and work on those fine motor skills.

Children don’t put a timer on play. We do. That few minutes they ‘only’ seem to engage for, is not just a few minutes to them. If they say they are not interested, it’s okay to pack it away and try it again another day.

Let’s talk play- It means something very different to every parent. Play to me, it’s everything I do with my son Archie. Even house work I engage him in, he things it’s the best playtime ever. I’m a big believer in learning through play. 

But what about the word activity? It has most people running for the hills right? Because activities mean time, money and creativity doesn’t it? Wrong.

I simply don’t differentiate between the two. Every single activity is play. Its learning. Its exploring. Most of all, it is about the experience I give to my son.
Play trays tend to be very open ended for us now. Throw the clock back 6  months ago and I was trying to control every aspect of the play. That no longer happens. Archie leads the play. He gets to independently chose what he does with whatever I put forward and for as long as he choses to. Sometimes dinosaurs turn into diggers, or rice puffs become dinosaur poop he would say. They can be whatever hos imagination choses.

 There are two questions I get asked the most.  How do you find the time to do all those activities? And How do you come up with these things?
I am one of those people who finds themselves really time poor, especially since returning to work. There is that guilt that comes with not spending those days with Archie.
o Organisation is everything. I am the most unorganised person I know except for when it comes to play.

Before you even start here are some tips:
-Box and label your crafts and resources.
-Schedule yourself time to play with your child just like you would any other appointment. Make this your fun play. Allocate 15-30mins for it. It could be in the morning, or the evening.
If you have caught yourself just sitting and observing your child playing- that is the time you could be making some play memories with them.
- Write a list of the play (activity) you would like to do. I always add literacy and numeracy play and messy playoff some sort (water or fizzy play)You don’t have to do something each day. But having it written down just helps.

** Important: Pay attention to what your child is taking interest in and use that when setting up a play. This will help with engagement. And if you’re new to play trays then also just give it time. Give them time to let their senses overload and take it all in.

If you need inspiration then google, pinterest and insta are full of it. I would encourage you to join in weekly #hashtags for play. This takes out the need to think if a theme.


These can be very simple or as detailed as you want them to be. Majority of the time, my vote is for the less is more approach and as your child starts to show signs of engaging for longer periods then you can add more.

The three main thing you will need:

- Grab A tray

- Add a Sensory Base

- Add the Recources

Don’t have a kmart tray or Flisat from ikea? That is OK!
Use a dinner plate, a muffin tin, a shoebox or even a chopping board. You will find some great ways to reuse household items.

Anything will work. I might have about 23 different types of trays but I am always using the same 2-3.

Here is the thing. You don’t need to run out and buy anything fancy- Your child does not care how the play is presented. But it does make for some great photos.

 A shoebox really makes the perfect tray. They are deep enough to minimise mess. If you put a towel under any dry ingredient play, you can just shake off any excess. Oats and Flour make a great base and this play is as simple as matching the baby to its mother. We explore the textures of the base and talk about the animals we see. And then we count the animals to practise our numbers. Keeping it simple isn’t  hard is it?


Archie will taste or eat anything I put in front of him. He is the ‘saltier the playdough the better’ kind of child.
This doesn’t bother me though because See Touch Feel Hear TASTE! Taste is a very normal part of growing up. There are so many bases you can use that are non toxic and edible. And of course always supervise and encourage it. Talk to your child about it. Talk about what they just tried to eat. What did it taste like? What did it feel like? Is it a food? Why don’t we eat it? And right there is an unintentional way to ‘learn though play’

Before you run to the store, open your pantry and see what you already have that you can use. So many staples in the pantry make the best bases. Salt, Flour, Cereal, Pasta, Rice, Spices, ice cream cones, Coconut, bread. Yes bread. Tear up the bread into a blender, add a bit of oil and blend. Add a little extra water if you need but you will watch the bread become edible play dough. Add that into a tray with some dough cutters or shape puzzle pieces and viola!


It is ideal to have a theme for your play. I think it helps with engagement and focus. But you do not have to. The part I touched on  above about organisation, this is where organisation helps. Know where everything is and all you need to do is dump it into a tray. Nicely..

The main rescources I use for small worlds or tray play are;

+ Wooden Toys
+ Tools (scoops, tongs, bowls, stampers etc)
+ Animals

+ Letters and Numbers ( recognition is a huge part of our play)

+ Pom Poms or wooden counters

If you get stuck on what resources to use, take some time to go through their toys. Take a good look at what your child already has available. What shapes are these items? Do they have colours on them? Numbers? Letters? Can you use these for learning?

One thing I am so glad I have done is that I have purchased lots of sustainable wooden resources over the last year and they were worth every penny. They have lasted through so many plays and they just don’t break or wear out like some of the cheaper plastic things I purchased early on. Some of my must have resources are tools, puzzles and nature lose parts.

This is a photo of the most used resources in our home for the last 3 weeks. I would usually rotate them each week but Archie is still pretty engaged with these.







The rainbow tree people are so versatile and open ended. They can be anything you want them to be. They are coloured and different sizes so it’s a great way to talk to your little ones about big and small and about colours. Archie also discovered that gumnuts make great hats for rainbow tree people.

Muffin trays are great for literacy and numeracy and how beautiful is making tracks using flour. That tray is actually just the lid of a gift box.A great activity for exploring patterns.

 Flour is really great for stamping. The rainbow maze is really great for imagination. We love using different resources to fill the maze in.

Setting up a farm small world is always a hit. Animals , puzzles and letter recognition make this a great learning activity.

And when the weather is terrible you can still go for a nature hunt indoors. You can make it a matching game or hide the discs around the house and explore.

I hope you are able to take something away from this.
And to all the mums and dads, I ask you to breathe. Remind yourself of how incredibly creative you were as a child, and the hours of fun you had experimenting, exploring and experiencing new things. Recreate the same magic with your child and allow the inner child in you to also enjoy the process. Remember its time with you, and not the activity itself, that your little one will cherish

Jana @52weeksofmum  xoxo