We’ve been thinking lately about small worlds in play. In our estates-based work, small worlds play offer different ways to think about play and space than our usual concerns of public and private places, of the permeability of the site and play frame, of observation and alteration. On a recent visit to one site, we brought bags of miniature trains, figurines, cars and animals and while the drawing materials, balloons and so on that we also brought proved popular enough, it was these little items that the children engaged with particularly. By the end they had nearly all disappeared into hot hands and pockets.


Small objects are potent. There is something compelling in the abrupt changes of scale that make a train fit in the palm of your hand, that render the player both enormous as a deity and small enough to peer into the windows of tiny houses. There is something intimate about them, something absorbing in their detail. The possibilities of small worlds are enormous within estates-based work, because they offer portable universes of play that can be hidden in a pocket. In playing with that scale, that intimacy, small worlds are located within the individual mind and can thus be everywhere, anywhere, at any time. They are places that are owned and managed by the child but can be shared, their rules expressed, discussed and evolved through argument. They are treasures, and treasured.

The classic example is the humble and nostalgic marble. Exquisitely beautiful, these are glass universes that joins others in games. In so doing they powerfully transform the public realm. Marbles turn pavement cracks into obstacles, holes into goals, other children into play partners,and the outside world into a place for children’s play.