Schema Play: Understanding and Supporting childhood fascinations

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Both Piaget and Vygotsky believed that children learn through practice and play, and that repetition is one way that children explore, refine and make sense of what they are experiencing. It has also been established that when children’s Repetitive Play is identified and supported by adults in their setting, it can lead to higher levels of self-esteem. See this illustrated in a weekly Parent Newsletter sent to Virginia Chance School parents of a K/1 class:

Ms. Isham & Mrs. Abell
Our Learning Stories
Kindergarten-First Grade
February 22 – 25, 2016

In Soft Start this week, in addition to the ever-present collection of “beautiful stuff” (recyclables, odds-and-ends, and art supplies) the children use to invent and create, we offered new activities for play and exploration. When we plan Soft Start, we try to think of the main domains of children’s play which were observed and noted by Jean Piaget.

Jean Piaget noticed that children tend to do repeatable behaviors in play:

  • transporting
  • enveloping
  • enclosure/containing
  • exploring trajectory
  • studying rotation
  • connecting
  • positioning
  • and transforming

Understanding Schema PDF

It is with these schema that they explore their world through play.

So, this week we offered connecting materials in the form of good old Lincoln Logs, extending from our study of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington last week. Several children worked together to create their own types of log cabins throughout the week. We also invited the students to enjoy a large assortment of beans in the sensory table, complete with measuring cups, spoons and tongs. You can see in this picture that the children displayed the enclosure/containing schema of play, sorting the beans by color and type into the measuring cups.

Sorting      Collecting

We also noticed these play behaviors outside on the playground.

A small group of children investigated trajectory and rotation by sliding their Matchbox Cars down both the straight slide and the spiral slide, seeing whose car would fly off the farthest at the bottom. Trajectory could also be seen in the children arcing through the sky on the swings.

Another group of children demonstrated the play schemas of transporting and enclosure/containing as they gathered different kinds of rocks and pieces of black wood and organized them in a semi- circle on top of planks of wood. They created a “firewood shop” where children could come and get firewood for free from them. Still another child transported tiny fragrant flowers she found to the picnic table. There she enclosed the pile of flowers with a ring of small rocks and offered one to friends and teachers as they passed by.

Use Piaget’s Schemas of Play as a new lens for you at home as you watch your children play.

See what kinds of behaviors they demonstrate to interact with all the forces and objects of this world and environment!

Schema of Play

We argue that you probably play too. What are your preferences for fun or relaxation? Which play schemas do you think they represent in a more mature form?

Happy playing!

Hayley & Heather


Additional Reading:

See Parent Copy of Newsletter Here

Unstructured Play: Why Children need to play without us

Play-Based Early Childhood Education