Arctic Small World Play in a Suitcase

Here’s how to create an Arctic small world in a suitcase for imaginative play on the go! Perfect as a creative gift for kids this Christmas that you can make yourself with minimal effort but maximum wow factor! The possibilities for what you can create are as limitless as your imagination.

As you will know by now, I am a huge lover of all things miniature and small world imaginative play is one of my all time favourite types of play for children. The learning opportunities linked with small world play are awesome, including storytelling, creative writing prompts, scientific discovery and social skills (to name just a few.) I thought how great it would be to organise some of our many small world toys into themed sets in little boxes, not only to keep them sorted and accessible, but also so that they can become portable and great for taking to restaurants and on long journeys.
So I did some research and finally found the exact mini suitcases that I was after at this craft shop on eBay, made from a hardened type of paper mache that is a perfect blank canvas for painting and decorating the inside of! Oh the possibilities, what to choose and where to start?! An Arctic scene for winter, that’s where!

Edited to add: [You can find a similar set of suitcases here on Amazon too, otherwise just use a shoe box!)

I started by simply painting the inside of the box with ordinary, washable white paint to represent the snow and ice. Then I squeezed some PVA/ white glue into a simple wiggly outline and covered it with silver glitter, shaking off the excess when dry. On the opposite side I used blue glitter glue to create a frozen lake and left both to dry overnight.

Into the box I added some highly tactile and visually appealing materials that will offer open-ended and creative play opportunities, without being overly prescriptive.
These included:
cotton wool balls
shredded iridescent plastic/ paper (I found this in the gift wrap section)
silver ball bead garlands
various silver plastic baubles
I deliberately made sure all of the elements are loose and not stuck down into a diorama so that they can be played with in any way that the girls choose, without the restrictions of my own imagination.
The materials simply go into the box and wait to be arranged and played with during small world play imaginative games!
I am leaving the outside of the box completely plain as I think it looks lovely as it is, with no clue to the surprise mini- habitat contained within it! You could alternatively paint a little scene on the outside or write a title if you are planning to make a whole collection (which I am!)
I can’t wait to give this to them on Christmas day! I have 3 more suitcases just waiting to be turned into other habitats and imaginative play-scapes! I am currently making one for my nephews which I will also share with you soon.
 What would you put into a little suitcase like this?
If you liked this you might like the dinosaur version too!


  1. says

    Ooo the possibilities are endless. I think I would paint a road and some very basic buildings, fire, police station etc and add some small emergency vehicles, wooden trees and little people and maybe some green yarn or shredded paper and stones. In fact I may just do that. For those on a tight budget, my local ‘store 21’ has little cases like these, they are patterned but could be painted.

  2. says

    I love this idea! Even better that you started with an Arctic theme, which is what we’ll be playing with/exploring/learning about after New Year’s. This is a great go-along playset. Can’t wait to see more!
    I second the question, though – can you share a link to the seller or brand of the suitcases? They have something similar at my local craft store but no cool handle…

  3. Anonymous says

    I googled where to find the suitcases because I love them to. Search : Darice Paper Mâché Box Purse (dimensions 10x8x3). Amazon had some for $5 each, everywhere else was around $8-10.

  4. Karen says

    I LOVE this!!! I will be making one to take to the Grandparents house on Christmas day – for that time of the day when the kids start to get a little restless! Whip this bad boy out and I am certain peace will be restored!!! Thank you :-) It’s like an even more exciting “busy bag”!!!

  5. says

    This is really lovely – I’ve done something similar in the past with small world play in shoe boxes, but the suitcases are fab! I love the wintry theme, I’m off to share! :)

  6. says

    Really lovely idea and a great gift. Wondering if I’d be able to make a small world for dinosaurs, not enough time for Christmas, but pinned for 2013 gifts. Thanks

  7. says

    I hardly ever comment but this one is so special I just had to write something! I too love small world play and nothing warms my heart like watching my daughter play with her little small world animals. I am looking forward to seeing what else you come up! This is truly special and lovely! Thank you…off to make one now!

  8. says

    I love this! Nice to have the alternative link in the comments, too, just in case the embedded link to the etsy shop you got your suitcases from is all sold out (wink)

  9. says

    Thanks for the great idea! =D Can’t wait to try it although I don’t have the suitcase – we’ll get creative and try a bin of some kind and use the lid to extend our play area.