Teach Kids About Tiny Things, Part 2

Whereas the first part of Tiny Things focused heavily on science, part two is far more of a hodgepodge. Here, kids can try to inspect face mites or find a tardigrade, but they can also design a matchbox museum, learn about one of the most elaborate dollhouses in the world, bake a cake filled with poppy seeds, and make their own baby book. I wanted this to be fun and a little magical, and I hope it is. Find Part 1, on atoms, molecules, DNA, and microbes, here.

What Kids Will Do

Kids might…

  • collect and observe face mites and tardigrades
  • make roly poly and snail habitats
  • put together a terrarium
  • germinate and plant seeds
  • eat a seed feast
  • make a poppy seed cake
  • learn about reproduction and babies
  • design a baby book with their own photos
  • make a cardboard castle
  • design dollhouse furniture
  • learn to sew a whip stitch and make a doll bed out of a matchbox
  • make a portable museum exhibition
  • cook tiny pancakes
  • and more

Designed for preschool and early elementary students, but many parts will be enjoyable for older children and adults, too.

Read On

  • Unseen Worlds: Real-Life Microscopic Creatures Hiding All Around Us, Hélène Rajcak and Damien Laverdunt [Amazon | Bookshop] — This book is filled with fold-out spreads that show enlarged ecosystems and the microscopic creatures that inhabit them. You’ll look at a tuft of moss, the ocean floor, the beach, your own bed, your body, and more (some of these are horrific to contemplate — but fascinating even so!). The authors include descriptions of the organisms in each ecosystem, along with their measurements and the degree of magnification in each illustration. It’s a wonderful and unusual book — and it’s awe-inspiring to inspect each of these tiny ecosystems.
  • Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt, Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal [Amazon | Bookshop] — In this gentle picture book about a girl, her grandmother, and their garden, kids can learn all about how gardens and their inhabitants (both above and below the ground) change throughout the seasons. See worm tunnels, ant colonies, bugs curled up for the winter, and carrots growing beneath the soil. There’s so much to spot here and it’s got a sweet narrative, too. A wonderful way to learn all about the ecosystem in your own back yard or vegetable garden.
  • The Life and Times of the Ant, Charles Micucci [Amazon | Bookshop] — A great place to start learning about ants. This book has so much detailed information, but there are also shorter summaries at the top of each page that are great if you’re reading with a younger child. You won’t find any photographs here, but the illustrations are very interesting, and at the back there’s a list with brief descriptions of some of the more fascinating ant species.
  • Snails Are Just My Speed!, Kevin McCloskey [Amazon | Bookshop] — Designed as an easy-to-read comic for very young readers, this book on snails has some good, basic facts about snails and also some quirkier information you won’t find in many other books (why is it, exactly, that medieval monks drew so many snails?). It’s a bit silly and jokey, in a good way, and includes a little tutorial for drawing your own snails at the end.
  • The Snail with the Right Heart: A True Story, Maria Popova and Ping Zhu [Amazon | Bookshop] — From masterful and fascinating science writer Maria Popova, a superbly touching true story about a snail with situs inversus, a mirror-image body. Because Jeremy the snail’s body is a mirror image of most snails’ bodies, they cannot mate with each other, and so an international hunt for another snail with situs inversus begins. It’s wonderful and heartening that so many people searched their gardens for a snail companion for Jeremy, and the ending to the tale is gorgeously bittersweet. Popova writes sensitively about Jeremy, about how snails are neither “he” nor “she” but “they” instead, and about how all types of bodies are wonderful and miraculous and precious. The discussion about genes here might be a little tough for the youngest readers to grasp, but the story itself is so lovely, the writing so beautiful, that younger children will be moved by this, too. 

  • The Snail House, Allan Ahlberg and Gillian Tyler [Amazon] — A grandmother tells her grandchildren a story about shrinking siblings who, once miniaturized, go to live in a real snail house, on a real snail. And they have adventures, of course! The drawings are packed with wonderful details (like a bath in half a conker) and conjure up all the magic in what life would be like if we were very tiny. A beautiful, sweetly thrilling, and perfect book.
  • Trees, Leaves, Flowers & Seeds, DK Smithsonian [Amazon | Bookshop] — A comprehensive reference book for children about plants, filled with wonderful photographs and information (and good even for younger children).
  • The Tiny Seed, Eric Carle [Amazon | Bookshop] — Older children will, of course, know most of the information in this book about the seasons and the (somewhat fantastical) journey of a tiny seed, but it’s a nice read and will help preschoolers grasp the basics of how plants grow from seeds.

  • Making a Baby, Rachel Greener and Clare Owen [Amazon | Bookshop] — Possibly the most inclusive books about sex and babies, this book covers almost all of it, including sex, adoption, IVF, C-sections, transitions, and more. It’s also very direct, plain-spoken, and detailed, so kids will see detailed diagrams of penises, for example, and the mechanics of sex. It answers the questions! The illustrations portray all different types of families (including families with two moms or dads) and different types of bodies in a really lovely way. 
  • Being Born, Sheila Kitzinger and Lennart Nilsson [Amazon] — This classic has step-by-step information about how a baby develops in the womb, accompanied by Nilsson’s astonishing photographs of embryos. Delicate and gently lit, these photos are the real attraction. The book is out of print, but you can often find used copies online or at the library. Nilsson’s photos are also available in other books and online.
  • The Menino: A Story Based on Real Events, Isol [Amazon | Bookshop] — This extremely quirky book explores a baby as one might an alien being or a robot. It reads like a field guide: How does a baby function? What are its features? It’s a one-of-a-kind reading experience, delightful and funny and strange.
  • The Tale of the Castle Mice, Michael Bond and Emily Sutton [Amazon] — Visitors come from all over to visit a historic castle and marvel at the intricate dollhouse on display there. Little do they know that 15 mice live a splendid life inside that very dollhouse at night. But soon things go terribly wrong, when the mice children accidentally ruin the dollhouse. From Paddington author Michael Bond, this sweet story shows how sometimes the bleakest, most hopeless moments might lead, unexpectedly, to something wonderful. And Emily Sutton’s illustrations are so beautiful, showing every little detail of this marvelous dollhouse and how the mice live within it. 
  • Miss Suzy, Miriam Young and Arnold Lobel [Amazon | Bookshop] — Miss Suzy the squirrel has a beautifully arranged house in an oak tree and lives a contented life, until a band of rowdy squirrels chases her out. She takes refuge in a dollhouse and cares for a group of toy soldiers, but the dollhouse isn’t the same. It’s a sweet story about how luxury and decadence isn’t necessarily better than simple, cared-for things, how material possessions aren’t a match for the pleasures of nature. And I love the details: her acorn cups, firefly lamps, and moss carpets. 
  • City Mouse, Country Mouse, Maggie Rudy [Amazon | Bookshop] — Here’s a version of the classic tale, but instead of illustrations, Rudy’s book features photographs of miniature towns and landscapes, all exquisitely composed. The mouse town features water towers made from vintage cans, and in the country there’s a wheelbarrow made from a nutshell. These details are wonderful, but the way the characters are posed is perhaps even more remarkable. These little mice are so expressive — you can see the affection they have for each other. The ending of this story is lovely, too: the mice love each other enough that they joyfully compromise on a “halfway town” that suits both of them.

  • A Mouse Called Julian, Joe Todd-Stanton [Amazon | Bookshop] — Julian the mouse is an introvert and enjoys living a solitary life. But when a hungry fox pokes his head into Julian’s tiny house and gets stuck, they strike up an unlikely friendship. Julian isn’t converted to an extrovert; he still loves to be on his own. But he finds that he enjoys connection, too — on his own time and terms. Julian’s little house isn’t elaborate but does have nice details: a shoe for a bed, a teacup bath, matchstick torches.

  • The Tale of Two Bad Mice, Beatrix Potter [Amazon | Bookshop] — There is some special allure to this tale of two very naughty and supremely destructive mice. I suppose a part of the appeal is its weirdness, and perhaps another is its emotional honesty. Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca feel tricked when they discover that all the beautiful contents of a dollhouse are fake: the mouthwatering dinner spread is made of plaster, the tins are full of tiny beads, and even the fire is just shreds of paper. In a fit of disappointed rage, they go on an epic spree, worthy of any rock band, trashing the house and stealing whatever’s left. If you read this as a child, you might forget that it ends with acts of repentance, because the mice’s fury is the star here, the emotional center and the thing that rings most true. I love this strange book, and it’s a wonderful pick to accompany dollhouse crafts, as Beatrix Potter’s illustrations are gorgeously detailed and supremely satisfying.


  • Pondlife: Our Tiny Neighbors — Fascinating episodes about tiny life in a pond and great inspiration if you’re considering taking a pond sample yourself.
  • Tiny World — On Apple TV+, a lovely documentary series about tiny life in all different sorts of habitats.


Micro Animals

Face Mites

Watch: You Have Mites Living On Your Face
These Face Mites Really Grow On You
Activity: Capture face mites and look at them under a microscope
Look: you might regret doing this. It’s uncomfortable to know that there are likely mites living on your face, and it’s another thing altogether to see them with your own eyes. So consider carefully before you do this. You’ll need very sticky tape to try this (like clear packing tape), and it’s best to try this on an adult rather than a child — for several reasons, but a chief one is that children are less likely to have them. The videos above have some methods for capturing them, and here’s another video with some instructions.

Watch: How Do Microorganisms Poop Without a Butthole?


Read: “The Hidden Life of a Tuft of Moss,” Unseen Worlds: Real-Life Microscopic Creatures Hiding All Around Us, Hélène Rajcak and Damien Laverdunt [Amazon | Bookshop] 18-19

Watch: Tardigrades: Chubby, Misunderstood, & Not Immortal
The Highs and Lows of Tardigrade Pregnancy

Activity: Tardigrade hunt
For this activity, you’ll want to find a tree with lichen on it or a patch of moss. (We did both and had far more interesting results with the moss.) You’ll want to have bottled water to rehydrate your samples and probably a tiny petri dish/cell culture dish to put the sample in. Even if you don’t find tardigrades, you’ll find plenty of other fascinating life (like rotifers!). For full instructions, see How to Find Water Bears or How to Find Tardigrades. The book Unseen Worlds (listed above, in “Read On”) is extremely helpful for identifying what you might find. You could also watch the moss episode of Pondlife.

Debris and microorganisms from a moss sample

Small Garden Creatures

Read: Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt, Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal [Amazon | Bookshop]

Garden Bugs

Read: The Life and Times of the Ant, Charles Micucci [Amazon | Bookshop]
Watch: Inside the Ant Colony
The World War of the Ants — the Army Ant
The Billion Ant Mega Colony and the Biggest War on Earth (Argentine ants)
Where Are the Ants Carrying All Those Leaves?
Kidnapper Ants Steal Other Ants’ Babies – And Brainwash Them

Garden Crustaceans

Roly Polies
: The Next Time You See a Pill Bug (read by author Emily Morgan)
Roly Polies Came From the Sea to Conquer the Earth

Activity: Make a roly poly habitat
Roly poly habitats are very easy to make: get a small plastic terrarium (like this one, which I used for this project) and fill it with some soil, some decomposing garden matter (leaves and wood), and at least six roly polies. You’ll want to spray the habitat with water once a day, since roly polies like their environment moist, and you’ll also want to check that they’re eating the dead leaves you’ve put inside. We found that they definitely preferred some leaves to others (crunchier, crumblier leaves were favorites). For more instructions, check out this video or this one.

Garden Mollusks

Read: Snails Are Just My Speed!, Kevin McCloskey [Amazon | Bookshop]
The Snail with the Right Heart: A True Story, Maria Popova and Ping Zhu [Amazon | Bookshop]
Watch: Super-Sized Snail!
Largest Snail in the World Lifecycle

Activity: Build a snail habitat or terrarium
For terrarium inspiration, check out Jartopia and Life in Jars. For snail habitat instructions, see here.

Watch: Tiny World on Apple TV+, if you have it (many episodes would work, but Garden is especially relevant)
Be aware that Tiny World has both peril and animal death in it.

Bonus Content: Flea Circuses

Watch: A Flea’s Fantastic Jump Takes More Than Muscle
David Attenborough’s Natural Curiosities: The Flea Circus
Flea Circus (1950)


Read: “How Do Seeds Grow?,” “Seed Shapes,” Trees, Leaves, Flowers & Seeds, DK Smithsonian [Amazon | Bookshop] 20-23
The Tiny Seed, Eric Carle [Amazon | Bookshop]
Watch: Acorn to oak time lapse

Activity: Sprout seeds and plant them
Soak seeds and beans overnight — we chose lentils, black-eyed peas, pinto beans, and an avocado seed, from a grocery store avocado — and then place the seeds on a damp towel in a Ziploc-style bag and tape it to a window with good sunlight. For the avocado seed, poke several toothpicks into it for support and submerge the bottom half in water in a jar. If you can be patient, it will sprout in about six weeks. More detailed instructions here.

When the seeds sprout, you can plant them in a clear plastic food container, near the edge, so that you can watch the roots grow.

Watch: Watch: The Seychelles Islands’ Unique “Love Nuts”
If you read the above DK pages about seeds, children might well be intrigued by the coco de mer seed, the largest seed in the world, which is about as heavy as many a 4- or 5-year-old. Be aware that this video jokes a bit about how much the seed looks likes genitalia — though to many children this will already be obvious!

Activity: Bake a poppy seed cake
Lemon and poppy seeds are a classic combination, but I chose this particular recipe because it focuses more on the seeds than the lemon. The cake you get from this is light and buttery, almost reminiscent of fluffy shortbread. There’s only a bit of lemon scent from the zest, and in place of that you get a lot of crunch from the poppy seeds. You’ll need a bit over one full jar of poppy seeds for this. But, of course, if this recipe is a bit fussier than you’d like, there are plenty of other lemon poppy seed recipes, and many other seed-based cakes, too.

Activity: Look at a poppy seed under the microscope
You might think that a poppy seed is just a perfectly round dot, but have a closer look (under a microscope, if possible).

Activity: Seed feast
So many foods we eat are actually seeds. Compile a whole meal of them! You can find a list of edible seeds here.


Read: Making a Baby, Rachel Greener and Clare Owen [Amazon | Bookshop]
Making a Baby presents an extremely honest and wide-ranging look at how babies are conceived and how they come into the world and into all sorts of families.
Read: Being Born, Sheila Kitzinger and Lennart Nilsson [Amazon] or find Lennart Nilsson’s photos online
Watch: See a Salamander Grow From a Single Cell in this Incredible Time Lapse
Read: The Menino: A Story Based on Real Events, Isol [Amazon | Bookshop]

Activity: Make a baby book with photos
If they like, children can use a small blank notebook to paste in photos of themselves as babies. We used these notebooks and 4″ square photos. Although this might seem like a small, throwaway activity, it’s a really lovely and exciting way for kids to explore their own childhood (and might even inspire them to want to make more photo books).


For this section, you can do the activities in any order you like and read the books whenever you have the time.

Read: The Tale of the Castle Mice, Michael Bond and Emily Sutton [Amazon]
The Tale of Two Bad Mice, Beatrix Potter [Amazon | Bookshop]
City Mouse, Country Mouse, Maggie Rudy [Amazon | Bookshop]
A Mouse Called Julian, Joe Todd-Stanton [Amazon | Bookshop]
Miss Suzy, Miriam Young and Arnold Lobel [Amazon | Bookshop]

Watch: Condition Checking Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House

Activity: Make a castle with a box and paper towel rolls
Unless you’e working with very crafty or older children (late elementary), you’ll probably want to prep these castles yourself beforehand. In our case, I had children paint them and choose the patterned papers for the roofs. Here are the instructions, and you can go here for printable cone templates (a 3″ base width worked well for ours).

Activity: Make dollhouse furniture
This can be accomplished simply with recycling, but if you want something sturdier, you can also buy small quantities of wooden components on Etsy (I bought mine here). You might also want some wood glue for this!

Matchbox Crafts

Regular cardboard matchboxes work well for these activities, but if you want something more durable, you can also buy wooden matchboxes online.

Activity: Make a tiny bed out of a big matchbox
This is a lovely way to teach some simple sewing. Kids can sew a pillow easily with a whip stitch, and they can fill it with lavender. Blankets can either be hemmed or cut with pinking shears (or simply cut out of felt). These are perfect beds for little animals or halfpenny dolls if you have any. You shouldn’t really need instructions for this, but in case you do, here’s a short video.

Activity: Matchbox art show
Kids can create their own portable art exhibition on tiny sheets of paper. Wrap the matchbox in paper, too, and give the show a title. Inspired by this.

Plenty more matchbox art inspiration here, including matchbox mini-books, matchbox dioramas, and matchbox vases and flowers by Molly Hatch.

Miniature Books

Watch: Miniature Books
Miniature Books by Your Favorite Authors (the ones by Viviane Schwarz and Jane Porter are especially easy to see and might give children some good ideas)

Activity: Make a miniature book
These books are wonderfully fun to make and are so cute. I suggest making page, cover, and spine templates beforehand. (I made a model book beforehand, too, which I think was helpful.) Full instructions here.

Miniature Cooking

Watch: The Tiny Chef Show: The Tiny Reveal
The Tiny Chef Show: Flour Your Paddle
The Tiny Chef Show: Tiny Surprise
An easy Tiny Chef activity would be to make a stove out of a little box with buttons for the burners.

Activity: 5 Minute Mini Pancakes
Or call it pancake cereal! Instructions here.

This site uses affiliate links, and I might earn a small commission if you click through to purchase these books. I only recommend books I have used and love.

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