DIY Small World Play Mat

One of my favorite centers to prepare for my kindergarten children is a DIY small world play mat. This center is always popular and the imaginary play that happens at this center each day is magical.

I have been doing story plays (a way of telling stories by using small props), for many years and children always love playing with the props after and retelling the story. The idea for this DIY play mat came from this interest and enthusiasm in these story plays.

Years ago I saw a play mat online that I loved and knew my students would enjoy for years to come, however, it was hundreds of dollars. I created this DIY felt mat for minimal cost and it has been a wonderful addition to my classroom.

One of my favorite things about the mat is that it can easily be changed to fit any theme, season, celebration or classroom unit. You can add different mini props to the mat to completely change the play and experience for the kids.

diy small world play shows a pinterest pin.

Small World Play Mat Materials

I don’t sew. I wish I was quick and great at it, but I’m not, so I used a glue gun for this play mat. It had now held up for over 2 years, so a glue gun will work for you too.

If you can sew well, you can sew where I have glued.

For this small world play mat you will need:

  • Fabric (A large sheet of green, regular sized brown, blue, grey)
  • Hot Glue
  • Small Plastic Bowl (To make the nest)
  • Pipe cleaner (Optional)

Above are the materials for the actual mat. Once created, you can add any number of small toys/props for children to play with.

For this project you will need a large sheet of green felt. This will create the base of your play mat. I suggest at least 1 meter or yard. The bigger you can make it, the better.

small world play shows a stack of felt pieces.

I used green to represent grass, however, you could use any color. You can also use old fabric, like a blanket or other material you already have at home. You will want a fairly strong piece of felt, or other material for the base.

I created a mat that was big enough for four children to comfortably play and have their own section of the mat. You can make your mat any shape or size you want.

If I were to create another small world play mat again, I would measure and create it to be the same size and shape as the table in my classroom that I typically set it on.

small world play  shows a felt play mat.

DIY Felt Mat Cave

On the small world play mat there are a few special features. You can add any section that you want, like a cave, bridge, nest, water and many more!

When I first created the play mat, I only had a few sections. Over time I have added more as new themes have come up.

Avoid adding too many sections to the mat, because it can begin to limit play.

Use a small piece of felt and cut it so that it created a curve. You can add a pipe cleaner at the front of the cave to support the arch. simply glue the pipe cleaner inside.

small world play shows a cave made on a felt play mat and a pipe cleaners forming the opening.

The cave is always a fun part of the small world play. Kids love hiding animals and props inside this cave.

small world play shows three wooden figures inside a felt cave.

You can even add mini lights to the inside of the cave for kids to put animals or other props inside. Giving children small gems and other small materials can be used to add details to their play.

small world play shows a cave with unicorn figures and lights inside.

Small World Play Nest

The nest was a later addition to the play mat. During a dinosaur unit in class, students loved learning about dinosaur eggs, so we added a small nest.

I used a small plastic bowl and covered it with a piece of brown felt and then I glued the brown felt down, allowing a dip in the middle of the nest and then added a bit of puffy paint around the edges.

I like the idea of adding small pebbles or moss around the outside of the nest as well. You can add anything you like!

small world play shows a felt nest with three eggs and a plastic turtle figure.

Small World Play Sections

The play mat has a few other sections around the mat. You can add as many, or a few sections as you want. You can also include felt pieces and simply set them on the mat, versus gluing them down. Children can then move them around as they play.


The water section is simply a small piece of blue felt cut like a small pond and then glued onto the large felt base.

kindergarten centers shows a plastic elephant by a felt water.

We often add small shiny blue gems for the kids to place on the water to add to the fun while playing.


The grass is a piece of green fabric. You could add details to these sections with puffy paint. You could also use fabric with different prints on them to represent the different sections.

preschool center shows a pig figure on a piece of green felt.


The burrow was another fun, and popular addition to the play mat. I cut a slit in the large green base and glued a pocket of brown fabric in the slit/hole that I created.

The slit was 15cm long. If you are going to include a burrow, I suggest making it bigger. The kids love playing with this part of the mat, but if I were to make it again, I would make this bigger.

centers for young kids shows a small figure inside a felt burrow.

Themed Small World Play Ideas

Once you have the main part of your mat created, and a few sections, like a cave, glued on, your mat is ready! The first few times your children play with the mat, keep it simply and just include a few small props.

This will give them time to explore the mat and the different parts of it. After using it a few times, you’re ready to start adding a themed to the mat for small world play.

Below are a few ideas of how to change your mat for a new small world play experience.

Natural Wooden Play

We love natural materials in class. It encourages children’s imagination and creates a beautiful play mat.

Add wood slices, wooden people, stones, and other natural materials you already have on hand.

small world play shows a felt mat from an birds eye view.

I love watching children play with these materials because the play is very open ended. The pieces can be stacked or played with differently by each child.

small world play shows a felt mat with wood slices and natural props on it.

A small wooden figure becomes an animal, a stack of wood slices becomes a tree. The possibilities are endless.

Winter Small World Play

You can change your small world play for each season! Add a few figures and props to represent the season. For winter, cut out some white bunches of felt to represent snow. A small mirror becomes ice, and snowflake felt cutout can be placed all over the mat.

small world play shows a winter themed felt play mat.

I added some snowmen figure that we had for other winter learning, that kids loved playing with. Use anything that you have on hand.

Fall Small World Play

For fall, a few colorful leaves transform the mat into a fall landscape. A bare wooden tree can be placed on the mat for children to manipulate and play with.

small world play shows a fall themed play mat with colorful leaves.

Spring Small World Play

During spring, or Easter, try adding some small bunnies or spring animals. We also added lots of eggs to the nest, and around the mat. We often add any decorative items that we have on hand for the season.

small world play shows an easter or spring themed play mat with eggs, bunnies.

Small gems are often a great addition as well, and a fun surprise for kids if you hide them in the eggs for them to find.

Summer Small World Play

For summer try adding lots of colorful flowers and even little insect figures. We had some small insect finger puppets that we added.

kindergarten centers shows a felt play mat with insect finger puppets.
preschool centers shows more flowers, plastic bugs on a large felt mat.

Finger puppets are great to add to the play mat because children can put them on their finger as they play and tell stories.

DIY Critters for Kindergarten Centers

We use quiet critters in class when we are trying for a quiet classroom to focus on a project. These are adorable critters made from pompoms, googly eyes and foam feet.

I include this example to show you that even random figures or collections you have in class can turn into a great small world play activity.

arts and crafts for kids shows colorful pompom critters on a felt mat.

Classroom Materials for Small World Play

Another material we use a lot on our DIY small world play mat are math manipulatives. We used our colorful counting and bears and wooden bird houses.

Any collection you have in the classroom can be used in a whole new way on your mat.

small world play shows math counting bears and wooden bird houses on a felt mat.

Dinosaur World

During a dinosaur inquiry, my students loved using the play mat as a dinosaur land. I created small eggs using polymer clay. They were solid and I was able to design them any way I wanted.

hands on kindergarten shows a large felt mat with dinosaur figures.

We put our dinosaur figures out on the play mat along with a few trees and children played and moved the dinosaurs around as they interacted with each other.

Animal Small World Play

The animal small world play was my initial plan with the play mat. The mat works for a simple zoo or farm small world play. Plastic animal figures work well for the different sections.

Although this was how I thought the mat would always be used, I’m so happy and excited about how many different ways it has been transformed.

farm play for kids shows plastic animals on a large felt play mat.

Another option is to let the children decide what they want to turn their DIY small world play mat into next!


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