Schemas in Children’s Play

“Children learn through play.” Everybody knows that, but do the parents really know the way in which this kind of “learning” occurs?

Jean Piaget defined several stages of cognitive development: sensimotor (0-2), preoperational (2-7), concrete operational (7-11), formal operational. According to this, preschool children are in the preoperational stage, a stage where learning takes place through play. There are several types of play, which are called “schemas”. Their names are rather suggestive.

In my work, identifying schema has always been helpful: you make sense of a situation and you can understand better why some children would do certain actions. Let’s have a look at them:

Enclosure -Building fences around the small world animals, sitting in boxes or pretending to be an animal in a cage. This schema is very popular. I had a little girl in my class who loved to pretend that she is a gorilla trapped in a cage. She used to put boxes or toys around herself particularly the big abacus which resembled the bars of the cage, and she spent most of her free play in there. One day she was enjoying herself so much, she forgot to go to the toilet and she wet herself.

“Enclosing” the car

Another example of enclosure is building. There was a boy in my class whose play revolved around this schema all year round. He spent most of his free play time building structures. He loved to build a  “garage” for his car and he used to literally close it between the walls of Lego. He even “enclosed” himself!

“Enclosing” himself between the “walls” of Lego

Enveloping– wrapping toys, layering paper or fabric.

Dressing up, Dressing and undressing dolls, making clothes for the dolls , all of these are also examples of enveloping. These activities are very popular with the girls. In the pictures below the girl is showing that she is in the enveloping schema. She also liked to dress up and to help her friend to do the same. The children with common schema often play very nicely together.

Enveloping expressed through layering fabric (wrapping it around a tree)

Making clothes for the baby, or “enveloping” the baby

Connection– play with jigsaws, tie knots, join things together (like cars, trains, plastic links). Lots of children love jigsaw but when you’ll notice your child trying to make knots with his little hands he might be exploring this schema.

Core and radial schema– drawing circles, or circle with lines resembling the sun. I have seen lots of children doing this kind of drawing to stand for “writing”, people or simply the sun.

Rotation– spinning around, doing rolly polly, running or walking in circles, playing with toys that have wheels.Trajectory– climbing, pouring, throwing different things, kicking. In this category we may include some children who might be seen as misbehaving (sometimes children are, but sometimes they are just exploring this schema): climbing up the table, throwing toys or food, kicking not only balls but also other toys that aren’t made with this purpose.

Positioning– lining up toys, having a preference in plating their food or just sitting under the table. Most commonly way of putting this into practice is by lining up toys and the most unusual way is placing things to  in a specific way. I had a little boy in my class last year who always requested his croutons on a tissue next to his soup (and not in it) or the mashed potatoes on one side of the plate and the sauce on the other, with some space between them. As fussy as this sounds, I could relate to him because I also have my preferences when plating. They say some schemas, although faded, may continue through adulthood. I guess I has a positioning schema as a child which continues today.

Positioning-lining up cars on top of pieces of Lego

Another example of positioning is this one, where the boy specifically placed the card behind the “walls”:

Specific positions: the plastic cars behind the “walls” and the wooden cars behind the plastic ones.

Transporting– moving objects from one place to another. The children who are showing this schema are called “transporters” and if you have one of these in your class, you’ll be spending a lot of time to tidy up. This is very popular  especially with 2 to 3 year old children.

There are some more schema , which I didn’t notice so often in children’s play, like orientation( which means being interested in different points of view).

Identifying children’s schema is important in order to help them extend their play by offering more chances to play in the same schema. We can  do this by planning  the activities according to children’s  schema.

The parents can do this by providing them the toys that they need for a specific schema. A child who is interested in making clothes for the dolls may also be interested in fancy dress, in playing with fabric to wrap himself in it (or others), in wrapping boxes, decorating, painting, going shopping, dress up Barbies and so on.  Eventually, the child will slide into another schema, and we must be there for him to understand, encourage and support him.

If you want to read more about this, I found these articles useful and maybe you’ll want to take a look:’s_Stages

Class Environment

Having a big class is every teacher’s dream, but what’s more important is knowing how to use the space wisely. The furniture that each class has can help you develop beautiful spaces for the children and also great ways of storing and displaying toys.

The toys should be at the children’s level, but they should also have clear labels and pictures so that the children know where to put them back when it’s tidy up time.

Labeling and photographing, laminating and sticking is time-consuming, but it’s worth it. The class will look organized and will provide a learning opportunity for the children (who will try to “read” the label themselves). It will also be a fun way to tidy up for everyone, which is a big bonus.

This is also a nice way of keeping track of resources, noticing when some are missing or broken. Displaying the resources like this can also make the children more responsible in the way they are handling them.

You can even take this approach outside, but don’t forget to double laminate! Children can be tempted to peel the labels off, but once you’ve explained them what their role is, this shouldn’t happen.

In order to customize your labels you’ll need to take pictures of the resources, add the label and then laminate them. Stick them somewhere in the area you’ll want your resources to stay.

For bigger boxes you can also add the label and picture on the box.

You can choose to use large or small photos, depending on your children’s age. With preschool children, it’s best to use bigger pictures and writing. As the children get older, you may want to make the picture smaller than the writing, so they can first notice the writing.

Boys’ Learning and Playing

I have been working with preschool children for 4 years. Two years ago I was given the opportunity to write an article in the school’s magazine. Now that I decided to start blogging, I dusted it off and I posted it here. I hope you enjoy it and don’t forget to leave a comment.

“Seeing the children playing, one can not help to see the difference between the way girls and boys choose to play. We are not encouraging stereotypes, but it’s very easy to notice that the boys choose to involve themselves in more physical play than girls. Most of the times boys choose to play outdoors, climbing, exploring, chasing, playing superhero games or gunplay.

What I particularly found challenging was to overview the playground, since that is the place where children engage in exuberant imaginative games. Watching the children being dinosaurs, chasing each other, jumping over obstacles, playing superheroes or seeing them climb in high places may cause a feeling of anxiety to any adult.

Children’s games that may seem rough have put me in the situation of stopping the game, but when I found out that there are other ways of dealing with it, I decided  to do a little research regarding boys’ play for my C.P.D.(and for my emotional well-being, since more knowledge will probably reduce the anxiety).

It has been acknowledged that not only the boys’ play is different to girls’play, but so is their learning. Boy’s learning was particularly being researched lately due to the figures that show that boys achieve lower in school than girls. It is especially important for Foundation Stage to meet all the children’s needs. Being at a fragile age, we should make the best out of their first experiences with learning. Learning-time should be playful, but it shouldn’t mean only carpet-time. There are many opportunities for learning even during playing-time. The ability to tune in the play and extending it further is the best thing that a practitioner can do during the child-initiated activities.

Having read the theory, opportunities to intervene in the children’s play were there to be discovered. During the autumn, I have notice some children’s preference in riding the bicycles. Later on, in one of their game, a boy put his arms on his hips and with a determined attitude demanded to the other 3 boys riding the bikes to pay speed tickets

I immediately suggested them to write them and brought paper and markers outside. Then, much to my surprise, I observed the 3 boys leaving their bicycles for the writing table. They all wrote their tickets in emergent writing and I found myself being fined by 4 policemen, who didn’t miss the chance to tell me while handing the “tickets”: “You have to pay!”

Then, winter came and all the children were thrilled with the snow and the boys highly appreciated it not because we could make snowmen, but mostly because of the snow fighting. Chasing, running, jumping, building snowmen and then crashing them, playing imaginative games, we had a lot of fun outside while most of the girls chose to play inside. But being outside during the winter was also a learning opportunity, especially for Knowledge and Understanding of the World since the boys noticed the changes in temperature, and all the things related to it.  They discovered in the garden chunks of ice and they later own wanted to make their own ice, leaving the water outside overnight. While being outside they also extended their vocabulary by learning and using words describing ice. They also developed mathematical skills in holding the heavy thick ice and comparing it to the light and thin one.

In the spring, after all the snow had melted, the boys started to play as policemen in a game that was mostly about chasing one another. This time, they weren’t the kind of policeman that write speed tickets, but the ones that send people to jail.

One day I found myself surrounded by policemen willing to send me to prison. But I wasn’t willing to go without a warrant. And so the boys started to write again, but this time they were forming recognizable letters. I was told, while being handed their writing: “You are going to prison!”

The game had repeated itself with the same pattern for some days. “The prison game” has highly popular and the adult went to a wooden-brick prison, much to some children’s cheer and to some other’s indignation. The children who didn’t want the adult “to go to prison” had to write their own note that set the adult free. The boys are still playing the game now, but among each other.

Having the warm weather has resulted in bringing more toys outside and it’s not big news that most of the things that boys play with, will eventually end up as being a weapon. Gun play has always been a sensitive issue bringing up numerous discussions whether to allow it or not.

Jungle Boy

Photo credit: kalebdf

In reading more about this subject I found that gun play can have an important role in boys’ development. Practice has shown that banning a game can only result in making it more desirable. There are numerous examples when the boys who are not allowed to play with guns are constructing their own and then pretend it is something else when an adult is around.  This can only teach the boy the benefits of lying.

Swords or guns, boys choose to play with these toys (or make them) not because they are linked with violence, but because they are linked with action. As practitioners, or parents, it is important to remember that gun play does not mean violent play, it is imaginative play.

This is what Guidance for practitioners in Early Years Foundation Stage: Confident, Capable and Creative: Supporting Boys’ Achievements recommends: “Images and ideas gleaned from the media are common starting point in boys’ play and may involve characters with special powers or weapons. Adults can find this type of play particularly challenging and have a natural instinct to stop it. This is not necessary as long as practitioners help the boys to understand and respect the rights of other children and to take responsibility for the resources and the environment.”

Children should be allowed to play with “swords” or “guns,” but an adult should always establish with them the rules of the game and make sure that the children follow them. It has been announced a very hot summer. Should  we play with the water guns ?”