Our World of Schema Play

by Diann Gano, M.Ed


Welcome back! A repeat visit to see me? Is this a schema? Haha, yes! Come visit me again and again and again. I hope that my last blog left you excited and intrigued about schemas. Let’s look at a few more schemas and share ideas about the ways that we can adapt our childcare environments to increase brain development and play value. 

Start by observing. Where are the children playing? What are they playing with and how are they playing? 


Do the kids you care for love to play in boxes, under desks or in small, cozy areas?  

If so, they are exhibiting an enclosing or enveloping schema. These children are filling a need to surround themselves or items within an enclosed environment. These are our fort kids! To support their brain development, bring in tents, tunnels, parachutes, envelopes, egg cartons, fabric and nesting toys. Children engaging in this type of schematic play also fence in their toy farm animals and fill and dump cups and buckets. These kids love to play with stacking cups, play silks and nesting dolls.  


Who doesn’t love our positioning schema friends? They love to line things up, sequence by size, tidy up our play areas and park all of the toy cars in a row! These also might be the kids who hate to have food touching on their plate. Don’t fight it—join them! Positioning helps our children find a sense of place. They may want to walk around things or on the edge of a wall or curb. They may always want to sit in the same place or do something in a specific order. They like order. To support their brain development, bring in sequence and pattern games, pegboards and balance games like Jenga.


Orientation schemas always brings a smile to my face. I often shout out to my children that I can see their brains growing! When a child engages in play that’s driven by an orientation schema, there is also some proprioceptive brain development happening. This is also known as the body schemawhen their bodies are in space. Orientation allows children to explore how it feels to see the world from a different point of view. They hang upside down or climb everywhere. They love hanging from bars or standing on toys or crawling under tables. They love to swing or slide down the slide headfirst or backwards. I often find these children lying on the ground looking up or flat on their stomach peering at an ant.  For these children, bring in binoculars, magnifying glasses, stilts, swings and gymnastic mats. They love to roll and twist. This is great for spatial awareness that will be needed for our math foundation.


Our train set builders, Lego, Bristle Bloc and Magnatile kids tend to be connection schema friends that have the impulse to construct by joining things together. They like threading games and paper chains and a good game of Barrel of Monkeys. They also love blocks!

And our lives would not be complete without one child going through the disconnection schema! You know, the child who just HAS to knock down everyone else’s tower?  You will now understand the true remorse they feel when they just couldn’t resist the urge to deconstruct their best friends castle. Once I realized the beauty of schemas, I came up with this solution. Jonathan and I created the game, CRASH!


Jonathan connects and positions.


Jonathan takes it down! Over and over and over. We are still working out the disconnection schema occasionally, but now I understand it and can redirect Jonathan to a game that causes a little less heartache to his classmates.

With a basic understanding and awareness of schemas, we can better support and understand how children use play to develop deep, logical collections of information through their movement and senses. We can support their play by allowing them time to question, predict, speculate and problem solve. It’s early childhood brain development—and early math learning that will eventually lead to algebra. Let them play!

Interested in learning more about schemas? Take a look at some of my favorite books: 


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