Teaching and learning

Play schemas in practice: 10 orientation schema activities

Part nine in a nine-part series on schematic play activities
A child demonstrates the orientation play schema
July 6, 2023
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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  orientation 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 read the one right before this final article, just click here.

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What is the ‘orientation’ play schema?

The orientation play schema is often a very physical one! It's an interest in seeing how things look from different angles, and how things might change when oriented, or directed, in different ways.

This is heavily connected with activating the vestibular system. The vestibular system is a sensory system that helps us get our bearing, and a sense of space. Its main role is to process and categorise incoming sensory information ,and pass this information onto the correct regions of the brain. This can help to prevent humans from becoming overwhelmed by sensory stimuli, and also plays a role in emotional regulation.

Some common things you might see in a child working within an orientation play schema include:

  • Hanging upside down over the edge of the sofa
  • Playing laying on their tummy, with their head sideways
  • Turning items over, upside down, sideways
  • Experimenting with balance
  • Turning themselves upside down or fidgeting

Children using an orientation play schema are experimenting with perspective. They're exploring the concept of perspective, and having control over changing their view of how things look. Children may begin to make connections between different orientations and different views, which builds their understanding of cause and effect, and may support their understanding of symmetry and mathematical patterns.

Like all schematic play, the orientation play schema occurs naturally. When we identify that our children are using this schema, we can and then provide opportunities for children to play in ways that extend their learning.

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

10 orientation play schema activities

1. Experimenting with orientation through yoga

Children First Clowne- Early Years Yoga

In a nutshell: Practicing different yoga positions allows children to experiment with getting their bodies and heads into unusual positions and see the world from a different perspective. Yoga has been shown to have many benefits to children, and one of these is helping with sensory processing. It also helps to develop strength, flexibility, balance and coordination and gives practitioners a chance for a much-needed stretch!

*What you need*

  • Yoga mats, or the carpet
  • A yoga video, or a willing practitioner to play instructor!

How to do it: There are plenty of yoga videos available online, and many designed particularly with young children in mind (think Cosmic Kids or GoNoodle). However, a confident practitioner instructing is always best! If they can watch through a few videos and learn a few poses then they will be able to offer children a basic yoga session, and can undertake training to improve and develop as time goes on. A few poses that may be beneficial for children with an orienting schema include downward-facing dog or the forward fold pose.

2. Using ladders for problem solving

Nursery World- We've Explored crossing Mud

In a nutshell: Ladders are a fantastic resource for supporting children with an orientation play schema, but they are also great for supporting all children’s development of physical skills including balance and coordination. They can also add an element of risk to children’s play, which presents the opportunity for children to risk-assess activities for themselves. Children with an orientation play schema will particularly benefit from using ladders as they can offer different heights and perspectives from which to view the world.

*What you need:*

  • A range of ladders
  • Space to play, preferably outdoors

How you do it: Make ladders available as part of your provision and watch how children decide to use them. You may choose to set the ladders up and have them fixed in place, or have them available for children to move around. If you opt to allow children to move them then it may be worth teaching children how to do this safely, and how to ensure that a ladder has been set up safely too. Ladders are fantastic when used as part of an obstacle course, or to access different areas (like trees, or climbing frames) or to support the use of different equipment like ramps and spouts.

3. Large scale loose parts

Early Years Resources- Pirate Outdoor Loose Parts

In a nutshell: Open-ended resources are those that can be played with in a variety of ways, rather than offering a set way to play or predetermined activity. Children with an orientation play schema need time and space to experiment with this, so simply providing lots of large loose parts, such as planks, crates, boxes and tyres will allow these children to play in ways that are most meaningful to them.

  • A selection of large loose parts like
  • Enhancements as required, like pirate costumes, treasure chests, golden coins

How to do it: Practitioners can support children’s exploration of different ideas by allowing them time and space to play and taking advantage of any teachable moments by asking questions or engaging in sustained shared thinking. They can also use children’s known interests to engage them in the activity. For example, by using play props related to pirates or superheroes or whatever the children are particularly interested in at the moment, practitioners can encourage children to engage in outdoor socio-dramatic play.

4. Experimenting with symmetry boxes

And Next Comes L- Wooden Shapes in a Mirror Box

In a nutshell: Children with the orientation play schema are often very interested in symmetry too and experimenting with mirrors can help to build spatial awareness and reasoning. This forms the foundation for mathematical patterning and an awareness of shape, space and measure. This activity also offers plenty of scope for creativity, as children can use loose parts to create patterns and pictures and explore how they change with the addition of mirrors.

*What you need*

  • Safety mirrors
  • Box
  • Tape
  • Loose parts

How you do it: This activity is simple to set up: You can buy a symmetry box from early years suppliers, or you can simply take a cardboard box and tape safety mirrors to some of the sides. Then provide children with a variety of loose parts, like shapes, sequins, natural resources, and encourage them to create pictures and patterns next to or on the mirrors.

5. Watching the clouds go by

Mother Natured- Cloud Watching

In a nutshell: Watching the clouds go by can be a lovely activity to promote calm, wellbeing and mindfulness. You can use this as a way to calm children, or as a creative activity, or even a launch point for a project. For children with an orientation schema, the chance to look at the world from a difficult angle by laying on the ground plays into their current learning needs, and stimulates conversation, imagination and creativity.

*What you need*

  • An area you can lay down to look at the sky
  • Imagination!
  • Optional: Camera, paper, pencils

How you do it: This couldn’t be simpler! Find a space you can lay down with the children and look up at the sky. If you need to, use a waterproof tarpaulin or blanket to keep everyone from wet backs. Encourage children to begin to notice the clouds, you can discuss how they are moving, whether they are big or small and see if you can spot any patterns or pictures. Practitioners might begin to ask children open-ended questions to encourage creative thinking or storytelling.

6. Messy splatter painting

Artful Parent- How to do splatter painting with kids

In a nutshell: Experimenting with different ways of using materials can be of great interest to children operating within an orientation play schema. It allows them to consider how things look, work and behave from different angles or perspectives. Splatter painting focuses on the process rather than the product, allowing children to develop their own ‘how’ and ‘why’ for the activity.

*What you need*

  • Runny paint in cups
  • Paper, canvas, or sheets
  • Spoons or brushes

How you do it: This is an activity where you have to expect mess! For this reason it might be good to do your splatter painting outdoors where you can simply lay your paper, canvas or sheet down on the ground and let children get on with their art. To splatter paint, children just need to dip their spoon or brush into the paint and then flick it across the paper. They can experiment with speed, motion, force, direction as well as shape and colour through this activity.

7. Mark-making on mirrors

Learning and Exploring Through Play- mark Making Mirror Tuff Tray

In a nutshell: This activity is fairly simple but it allows children to explore mark-making and experiment with patterns that pave the way for handwriting, all while viewing their own marks from several different angles. This builds a strong visual and mental picture of the way their own movements create effects.

*What you need*

  • Large safety mirror or mirror lined tuff tray
  • Pens or mark making resources
  • Messy play materials

How you do it: On a large safety mirror, or in a tuff tray lined with a mirror, children can use markers to mark-make. You can encourage them to create patterns including horizontal and vertical lines, circles, zigzags, wavy lines or spirals. Whiteboard pens are ideal as they can be wiped away as children experiment with different mark-making. You can also use messy play substances like gloop, shaving foam or paint to mix things up and encourage children to mark make in a range of different ways.

8. Upside down mark-making

Free Rangers- Michelangelo Mark Making

In a nutshell: This is a very simple but effective activity that supports children’s mark-making skills and coordination. Children lay underneath a table, reach up and draw or write from their lying position, the same way that Michaelangelo would have painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. For children with an orientation play schema, it offers the obvious benefit of being upside down, viewing mark-making and writing from a different perspective and feeling different sensations as they draw.

*What you need*

  • Table
  • Paper
  • Tape
  • Pens

How you do it: Tape paper to the underside of a table and provide children with mark-making implements. Children will happily direct their play as suits their interests. They might make a den under the table, draw maps of the stars or refer to the table as a bat cave. Practitioners can support with supplying resources to extend play.

9. Experiment with orientation on swings

The Empowered Educator- Reusing Tyres in Outdoor Play Spaces

In a nutshell: Swings are perfect for children with orientation play schemas, as they allow children to use different positions, orient themselves upside down and experience motion. They also offer the opportunity for experimenting with rotating and trajectory, and can help children to stay active.

*What you need:*

  • Space to play
  • Swings or rope to create rope swings

How you do it: Provide children with access to swings and allow them to play freely. Swings can be both indoor and outdoor resources. You could make a tyre swing or simple rope swings suspended from trees as part of a Forest School approach.

10. Rolling down hills

What we do all day- Classic outdoor activity rolling down hills

In a nutshell: A simple classic, rolling down hills can help children to develop good core strength, activate the vestibular system needed for balance, and build a stronger connection to nature. Allowing children to roll down hills often forms part of the Forest School approach because it is a natural way of learning. Children can develop their spatial awareness, sense of direction and speed. For children with an orientation schema, this allows them to reorient their body and their viewpoint as they roll down a hill.

*What you need:*

  • A hill  
  • Weatherproof clothing as required

How you do it: Good weather-proof clothing is essential for this if you are doing it on a wet day, and you will need to risk-assess the hill. Consider the state of the ground and any potential obstacles that could cause issues or injuries to children. Once you are happy that it is safe enough, encourage the children to take turns at rolling down the hill and follow them as their play progresses. Where possible, support with resources and questions to understand their thought processes.

Remember, this post is part of a series so look out for the rest of our series on play schemas and activity ideas.

The big ideas

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Official Danish Government Reopening Advice

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UK Nursery Covid-19 Response Group Recommendations

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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 ensured the Alphabet House team felt well-supported in communicating with parents about finances and bookings, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.

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Learn more about Famly

Find out below how Famly ensured the Alphabet House team felt well-supported in communicating with parents about finances and bookings, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.

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Learn more about Famly

Find out below how Famly ensured the Alphabet House team felt well-supported in communicating with parents about finances and bookings, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.