Teaching and learning

Play schemas in practice: 10 enveloping schema play ideas

Part three of a nine-part series on schematic play activities
A child engages in enveloping schema play in early childhood
October 4, 2022
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This series of articles explores the 9 main play schemas, and offers activities to support and develop each one.

In this article, we’re looking at the enveloping play schema. If you'd like to see the other articles, or read about play schemas more generally, you can do that here. Or, to go straight to the next one in the series, just click here.

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What is enveloping schema play?

An ‘enveloping’ play schema will often express itself in the desire to wrap up items like dolls, teddies, small figures and loose parts, covering them completely from view. 

Some children also love to wrap themselves up in blankets, make dens or hide away from view. At its most fundamental level, this has to do with children exploring the concepts of shape, space and measure, experimenting with volume and building their own bodily awareness. 

Conceptually, children are investigating the concrete nature of objects, how something or someone does not cease to exist when they disappear from view, they may also be interested in whether objects maintain the same form when they are put into different contexts. As well as all of this, these children are often experimenting with sensory input and what they find soothing in order to build their capacity for self-regulation.

Seen in this light, play schemas are a stepping stone toward developing key skills later in life, and a motivating factor in early childhood brain development.

It's not your job to make schema play happen. Rather, observing the schemas children are naturally experimenting with, and operating within, allows you to provide meaningful play activities that support their learning and development.

Let's look at 10 ways to engage children in the enveloping play schema.

Get wrapped up in hanging hammocks

Hammocks- Creative Star Learning

The schema play idea: Hammocks are a fantastic way for children to build the bodily awareness that their schema aims to develop, by wrapping themselves up and enjoying the sensation of being enveloped. The swinging motion of a hammock also activates a child’s vestibular system, which can be very soothing and encourage the capacity to regulate emotions. Children may also like to experiment with fitting more than one child into a hammock, or wrapping up dolls, toys or teddies and swinging them in the hammock too.

Children engage in enveloping schema play by wrapping themselves in a hammock

What you need:

  • Post or trees to hang the hammock between
  • A hammock, could be sturdy material and rope or a specially bought hammock
  • Enhancements like dolls, teddies, blankets, pillows

How you do it: Hammocks can be suspended from two trees, or hung in between posts or fences so long as they are strong and stable enough to do so. You can buy hammocks relatively cheaply, with all sorts of colours, materials and designs available, or create your own from material and cord. Although this is a fantastic forest school activity, it can also be achieved without a forest (check out our interview with Nilda Cosco on how you don’t need a forest to try outdoor learning), or even indoors using specially fitted tether points.

Make some ooey-gooey oobleck goop

Early Years Careers- Making Gloop

The schema play idea: Children with an enveloping play schema are typically fascinated by burying their hands, feet or other objects in different substances. Sand and water play are great opportunities for this, but messy play activities like making gloop or oobleck can help to keep this kind of play fresh. Most children are really entranced by oobleck, and it is particularly good for supporting children with an enveloping play schema.

Children engage in enveloping schema play by covering objects in goop

What you need:

  • A tray  
  • Cornflour
  • Water
  • An area that can be easily cleaned
  • Aprons or old clothes

How to do it: To make gloop, all you need to do is mix water and cornflour (the ratio is around about 1 part water to 2 parts cornflour). You can add food colouring too if you want to spice things up a bit. Mix until the desired consistency is reached and then allow children to experiment with the gloop. Many children will be happy to play with their hands, others might prefer the addition of spoons, cups, or small objects to bury and uncover.

Enveloping objects in ice

Play of the wild- Toy ice rescue

 The schema play idea: Perfect for outdoor play in the winter or for cooling down on a hot day, children with an enveloping play schema will love playing with items frozen, or enveloped, in ice. As children work to get the objects out, they are exploring lots of different scientific concepts, like heat, friction and change, as well as playing in line with their schema. This activity also works for children with a transformation schema, as they get to explore the properties of different materials.

Enveloping schema play can involve freezing toys in ice

What you need:

  • Containers in which to freeze items
  • Water
  • Selection of objects to freeze, e.g. sequins, beads,food colouring, small world figures, natural loose parts.
  • Brushes, small jugs, tools to get items out of the ice.

How you do it: To set up this activity you just need to freeze objects so that they are completely encased by ice. Children can then use brushes, cups of warm water or tools to try and break the items out of the ice. Practitioners can either provide all of these tools or set the activity up as a problem-solving challenge to encourage teamwork and critical thinking skills.

Think out of the box with cardboard boxes

MSU- Out of the box

The schema play idea: It’s a long standing joke that children don’t need presents because they just play with the box, but there’s so much truth in that! Box play is a great open-ended activity for all children in the Early Years, simply adding different sized boxes to your provision can lead to all sorts of learning opportunities. Children are able to experiment with construction, imaginative play and shape, space and measure through playing with boxes.

A boy hiding in a cardboard box is a good example of enveloping schema play

What you need:

  • Cardboard boxes of different sizes
  • Blankets
  • Enhancements like marker pens, or paint.

How you do it: Simply provide a good selection of boxes, including ones that are big enough to climb into and close up and stepping back to allow children to lead play and learning will have the best results. Children often take activities in a way that we wouldn’t have thought to (see our blog on child-led learning here). Adults should encourage exploration, letting children be creative and play in their own way, and keep the focus on the process rather than the product. 

You could introduce paints, markers, blankets, soft toys, or cardboard tubes into the play and see what happens. Allow the play to keep growing and flourishing by holding on to the boxes, so that children can revisit and reimagine the project.

Get enveloped in dress-up play

The Curiosity Approach- Dressing up

The schema play idea: Dressing up is great for children with an enveloping schema because it allows them to envelop themselves both physically and metaphorically. In the metaphorical sense children can ‘put on’ a character as they put on a costume, and use this character as a safe way to explore and experiment with a range of different social situations, processing their experience, filing their thoughts and making sense of the world as they do this. Children explore the concept of shape space and measure, figuring out what will fit or how best to put something on, or what items can be worn together.

Dressing up in costumes can be an expression of the enveloping play schema

What you need

  • Masks
  • Gloves 
  • Scarves and pashminas 
  • Cloaks 
  • Blankets or large lengths of material
  • Grown-up clothes, e.g. shirts, large coats
  • Hats

How you do it: 

Dressing up is intrinsically a very open-ended activity, but there are social and cultural expectations and interpretations at play within this. This can be experienced as a negative, in that these sometimes limit children’s play scenarios, or as a positive in that when it’s done well dressing up and role play can give children the opportunity to experiment with different identities and concepts. Dressing up can also give children the space that they need to explore concepts of gender and identity (see our blog here).

What’s in the bag?

The SLT Scrapbook- What's in the Bag?

The schema play idea: Children who love to use the enveloping schema may also like mystery activities and guessing games, because it touches on the same concepts of things continuing to exist in the same state even when out of sight. The "what's in the bag" game is utilised in a variety of different kinds of therapies because it helps to build trust, interaction and communication as well as building problem solving and critical thinking skills.

Hiding toys in a bag can engage the enveloping play schema

What you need:

  • Opaque bag
  • Variety of different items: could be sensory toys or familiar objects

How you do it: Simply take an opaque bag and put an object or some objects inside. Children then take turns putting their hand inside the bag (ideal for children with an enveloping schema!) and feeling the object inside. Older children can be encouraged to use language to describe what they can feel, and guess what it might be, whereas younger children can simply feel the objects and be given processing time. The object can then be removed from the bag and the child can check their guess, or be encouraged to use the correct vocabulary about the object.

Building blanket forts, dens and hideaways

Pentagon play- Why our children need to build dens

In a nutshell: Making dens and playing in them fits really well with an enveloping play schema. Children with this kind of schema typically love to see the types of spaces they can fit into and to envelop themself in both materials and spaces. They will particularly enjoy dens where they can be completely hidden inside. Providing den-making materials and allowing children to make their own spaces allows children to experiment with creating different spaces and ways to envelop themselves.

The enveloping play schema can also involve hiding oneself in a fort or den

What you need:

  • Large sheets of material
  • Washing line, pergola or trees to hang materials from
  • Pegs or clips to secure materials

How you do it: 

Provide open-ended materials such as large sheets, blankets or camouflage netting, a space to build dens such as over a washing line, between trees or even just under tables and perhaps some pegs or clips to keep material in place and then let the children get to work! Adults can support children’s play by engaging in sustained shared thinking with them (find out more about sustained shared thinking here).

Enveloping with envelopes: Post office play

Nurture Store- Pretend Play Post Office

The schema play idea: How about taking “enveloping” very literally and transforming an area of your classroom into a post office? Writing letters and putting them into envelopes, posting them into a box, and wrapping and unwrapping parcels is a fantastic way to support children with an enveloping play schema. It also supports a whole host of other skills, for example allowing children to engage in meaningful mark-making or perhaps writing for older children.

An envelope is an obvious way to engage enveloping schema play

What you need

  • Pens, pencils, crayons
  • Paper, envelopes
  • Ink, stamps
  • Boxes, wrapping paper, string or tape
  • Post box

How you do it: Some children may need to be introduced to the real world concept of a post office before they are able to engage in this kind of imaginative play so you could take a trip to the post office to send a parcel, or go to the postbox to send a letter. You may need to scaffold (learn more about this here) children’s play to support this role play scenario. This could be a temporary enhancement to a role play area or you may choose to make this kind of play a more permanent feature of your room.

Hospital play with baby bandages

The Imagination Tree- DIY plaster casts for doctor role play

The schema play idea: Wrapping baby dolls up in bandages and plaster casts is an imaginative way to support children with an enveloping play schema as it allows them to cover areas of the dolls bodies, and have the sensory experience of wrapping something up tightly. Making plaster casts takes the play a step further and will really spark children’s creativity and imagination and allow them to really immerse themselves in the role play.

Aspects of playing doctor can satisfy enveloping schema play

What you need:

  • ModRoc
  • Bandages
  • Scissors
  • Water
  • Plastic dolls
  • Items to enhance role play; clipboards, medicine syringes, stethoscope 

How you do it: Provide children with a range of resources, for doctor and hospital role-play. They will need support with plastering their dolls, so an adult should model what to do first. First bandage the limb of the doll you want to plaster, then dip a small strip of Mod Roc into a tub for around 5-10 seconds, squeeze out any excess water by pinching the strip in between two fingers or finger and thumb and running this down the length of the ModRoc strip. Wrap this carefully around the bandaged limb. You can continue to add layers to make a plaster cast. If the strips are getting a little dry you can dip your fingers into water and smooth them over the ModRoc strips to add a little moisture.

Parachute playtime

Kidadl- Best Parachute Games

The schema play idea: Parachutes are perfect for the enveloping schema as many of the games and activities that we use them for involve running, sitting or hiding under the parachute. You can also encourage the children to use the parachute as a kind of tent, with one child acting as the pole in the centre and everyone else sitting around the edge of the parachute to form the tent. Especially for children who like being enveloped, the novelty of being enveloped with all of their friends will really appeal to them.

Hiding under a parachute satisfies enveloping schema play

What you need:

  • Parachute
  • Teddies, balls, small toys
  • Sufficient space to play

How you do it: There are plenty of games that you can play with a parachute, but for children with an enveloping schema, ‘Washing Machine’ is brilliant. For this game, children can choose items to place in the middle of the parachutes. You can use teddies, balls or small toys, but it's best to pick things that are soft and unlikely to cause injury if they fall or bounce off the parachute. The children then each take a handle of the parachute and walk around the edge of it in a circle, holding the parachute handle at waist height. The material of the parachute will begin to wrap up the teddies or toys, enveloping them. The idea is that the children are acting as the washing machine; they can move faster, slower, and change direction, building listening skills as the adults give directions.

The big ideas

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Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

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Find out below how Famly helped Tenderlinks in recording child development, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.

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Find out below how Famly helped Tenderlinks in recording child development, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.