Posted April 18, 2022
Article by: Melanated Montessori Image by: Zero to Three
A play schema is a type of repetitive play a child uses to construct a model in their mind of how the world works. It is a method children use to identify patterns and organize the many things they take in and learn each day.
These are universal patterns, but different kids will engage in schema in different ways. For example, some kids dabble in schema, engaging in several at any given time. Others move from one schema to another over time. Others still stay working on a single schema for years.
Once you notice these patterns, your child's seemingly random and (occasionally frustratingly) repetitive actions suddenly appear elegant and purposeful. Best of all, once you realize that they are really exploring a certain schema or two, you can pick activities for them that give them the opportunity to practice them, increasing their engagement and extending their learning.
There are nine most common play schemas: Connecting, Enclosure, Enveloping, Orientation, Positioning, Rotation, Trajectory, Transforming, and Transporting.
When exploring this schema, a child might spend a great deal of time creating enclosures with Legos, blocks, or string. You may notice that they love to draw circles or loop a line around smaller marks already on the page. The enclosure schema is about creating boundaries. Enclosure is closely related to the enveloping schema, but with its own distinct character.
Enclosers like to draw faces, placing the eyes and mouth inside, hair and ears outside. An enveloper's drawings, on the other hand, focus on making things disappear. They might draw a pretty scene only to cover it completely with paint until nothing of the original scene remains.
When children enclose, they are learning that objects - or ideas - can be contained in a discrete space. And that anything outside this is a separate entity.
Eventually, enclosing leads to letter-formation. The balled fist that first holds a crayon, making endless spirals on the page, eventually becomes the hand drawing circles for 'o' and 'p' and 'd'. It's also central to drawing faces and bodies.
Like all schema play, the development of the enclosing schema happens naturally. But if you know to look out for it, you can provide opportunities to practice and improve. Understanding that this is a normal urge and allowing it to happen in a safe environment will give your child many happy hours of play.
Below are some toys to help support your child’s exploration.