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Schemas of Play in Nature - Winter Edition

Updated: Apr 16, 2021

"A child’s urge to engage repeatedly in a particular kind of play can be seen as natural and essential.” - Free Forest School

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!

Winter Schemas

Position Schema

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

group rocks or sticks by size, shape, color, texture, largest to smallest & smallest to largest

build snowballs and sort by size

Transportation Schema

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

pick-up sticks & haul them in a bucket, bag, or wagon to form a pile

shovel snow from a walkway to a pile

scoop, shovel, and move snow

Transformation Schema

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

make snow soup

make snow/ ice pie

paint the snow

melt ice or snow

build a snowman using items from nature to decorate

use sand toys to turn snow into snow castles, shapes, words, etc. & use found nature items to decorate

Trajectory Schema

If your child likes to throw things have them;

skip rocks across the ice or frozen ground

target practice throwing with rocks or snowballs

toss rocks, sticks, pine cones, or snowballs into a puddle or snowbank

toss nature items onto frozen puddles or water - watch for signs of breaking & how

Rotation Schema

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

create circles out of nature (example, mandalas)

spin rocks or sticks like a top

draw circles in the snow of different sizes using sticks

make snow track circles with their footprints

ice skate or “skate” in their shoes in large circles

Connect/Disconnect Schema

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

build a tower using rocks, nature items, or snowballs

build a bridge using sticks, snow, or other nature items

tie rope or string to trees or sticks to connect them

break ice & build new again like a puzzle

Orientation Schema

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

look up at the trees

look up at the sky

count clouds, stars, or tree branches

look up at snowflakes falling

count airplanes going by


climb a tree

Enveloping Schema

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

cover their feet in snow

bury a toy or nature item in the snow

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

wrap themselves up in a blanket

Enclosure Schema

If your child likes to place things inside of larger things have them;

build a snow fort or igloo

build a snow cave for hibernating animals (toy animals or create w/ painted rocks)

fill a bucket with snow or rocks

fill a bucket with found treasures

collect nature items in different containers

One of my favorite winter activities is building fire pits! Fire pits cover multiple schemas and is a fun activity kiddos love! Start with a rock hunt, transport rocks, build the rocks into a circle, look for and transport sticks to your new fire pit, have a fire (real or pretend), roast marshmallows & enjoy!

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