Schemas of Play in Nature - Spring Edition

Updated: Aug 6, 2021

Play schemas are the repeated behaviors that children show through play which facilitate their development. These stages of play are


both normal and necessary actions that allow children to develop an understanding of the world around them and how it works. While I’ve given you a list of play activities to match the play schema your child is in, don’t be afraid to suggest your child try an activity in another schema altogether. But most importantly, have fun and let them lead the way!


Position Schema

If your child likes to sort items into specific groups or order have them;

  • group rocks, sticks, petals, leaves or nature item by size, shape, color, texture, largest to smallest & smallest to largest

  • find flowers & leaves and sort by category, size, shape, color

Tip! Provide or collect/create together different objects & categories for sorting!


Transportation Schema

If your child likes to move & transport items have them;

  • pick-up sticks & haul them in a bucket, bag, basket, or wagon

  • rake flower beds, garden, yard and haul to compost bin or dump area

  • roll a log

  • roll a rock

  • load & move dirt in a bucket or toy truck

Tip! Provide or collect together different objects to transport & various transporting devices!

Transformation Schema

If your child likes to combine items to form or create new ones have them;

  • make mud soup

  • make a garden potion with flowers, grass, etc.

  • make mud pie

  • muddle flowers and leaves in water to make paint

  • combine dirt & water to make mud

  • create nature faces with mud & nature items

  • use sand toys to turn mud, sand, or dirt into castles, shapes, words, etc. & use found nature items to decorate

  • create letters, words, names, artwork with items from nature - sticks, leaves, flowers, etc.

Trajectory Schema

If your child likes to throw or drop things have them;

  • skip rocks across the ground or water source

  • target practice throwing with rocks

  • toss nature items like rocks or sticks into puddles

  • roll down a hill

  • throw leaves or grass in the air

  • pour water, water plants

  • stomp & splash in puddles

  • drop or roll items down a slide


Rotation Schema

If your child likes to spin or draw circles have them;

  • create circles out of nature items (example, mandalas or mazes)

  • spin rocks or sticks like a top

  • draw circles in the dirt of different sizes using sticks

  • make mud track circles with their footprints

  • make circles out of wet footprints

  • mix and stir various items

Tip! Provide materials with wheels or that spin that you already have on hand such as a wind spinner!


Connect/Disconnect Schema

If your child likes putting items together & taking them apart have them;

  • build a tower using rocks

  • build a bridge using sticks or nature items

  • build a dam

  • tie rope or string to trees or sticks to connect them

  • build a mini habitat, den, or hut for toy animals

  • build a life size den using fallen trees, sticks, and limbs

  • connect flowers/stems to form a bracelet

  • thread leaves together on a string

  • cut, clip, trim plants

  • pull weeds & shake off the dirt


Orientation Schema

If your child likes to get a different view of things or hang upside down have them;

  • look up at the trees, stars, sky

  • count clouds, stars, or tree branches

  • watch the rain falling

  • watch or count airplanes going by

  • stargaze

  • climb a tree

  • hang upside down

  • fly a kite and watch it in the sky

  • use a magnifying glass to look at flowers, insects, and nature

  • use binoculars to look at nature - look for birds, stars, animals, etc.


Enveloping Schema

If your child likes to hide & reappear or wrap things up have them;

  • cover their feet in dirt, grass, or leaves

  • bury a toy or nature item in the mud, dirt, leaves, etc.

  • wrap a toy or nature item in a large leaf, blanket, or piece of fabric

Enclosure Schema

If your child likes to place things inside of larger things or create enclosed spaces have them;

  • build a fort

  • build a nest - small (for toys) or kid-size to get in & play!

  • build a cave out of mud, dirt, rocks, sticks, for toy animals

  • fill a bucket rocks & wash the rocks

  • fill a bucket with found treasures

  • collect nature items in different containers like egg cartons, buckets, baskets, etc.

  • build a flower bed using rocks or sticks as a border

  • wrap nature items in leaves

  • build a fire pit with rocks for the surround and fill with sticks


One of my favorite Spring activities is fort, nest, or den building! Building forts or habitats covers multiple schemas of play and is an activity loved by children of all ages- it's also an excellent STEM project! It’s also a project that can be worked on over time, giving children something to do over the course of several days or even weeks. This activity can also be done on a small scale by building and creating mini habitats for toy animals! For small yard or balcony play, provide materials in a storage container or bin or use materials collected on a nature walk in the park!


Begin by having children collect items to build with or provide them if necessary. Sticks, branches, leaves, rocks, and more! Next, encourage them to build! Sometimes, they may need guidance getting started but will begin to let their imagination inspire them and create & build all on their own!









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