True wisdom lies in gathering the precious things out of each day as it goes by.

E.S. Bouton
A child’s collection of nature treasures

Schema are repetitive patterns of play that children use to explore the world around them, make sense of that world, and grow cognitively. Some common schemas we see at RVNS are transporting, trajectory, enclosing, construction, destruction, rotating, balancing, climbing, and a favorite…gathering.

Regardless of age, gathering things from nature is a really satisfying way to interact with the environment. In autumn there are many things to gather to satisfy this urge. At the farm right now, there are berries on the Asian honeysuckle, there are acorns from the oak trees, rachises (stems from the compound leaves of walnut trees), leaves of all colors and shapes, walnuts, and sticks…so many sticks!

As teachers it is important to pay attention to the schema that we observe as children play. These urges are prime areas for cognitive growth. With an understanding of how children are learning naturally during their play we can plan activities that tap into and enhance these areas of cognitive growth.

My students showed a lot of interest in collecting at the beginning of the school year. It all began with an “Amazon” stick shop. Sticks of all shapes and sizes were gathered and treasured for their unique qualities. The currency for purchasing sticks from the shop were leaves. At the time, a gold leaf had especially high value due to their rarity. Later, a crabapple tree provided a new commodity and the stick shop evolved into the “Nature Shop”.

The Amazon stick shop

After seeing my students return to this activity of gathering material from nature again and again, I thought it made sense to use this during our math expeditions. We were studying place value and one of the best ways to make place value concrete is to use manipulatives. Base ten blocks are often used for this work, but I’ve found that rachises work really well too!

Rachises gathered into “stick” bundles

I challenged my students gather a hundred rachises each with the goal of gathering 1000s collectively. We talked about different strategies for counting and organizing the rachises, including grouping and skip counting. The students bundled up their hundred rachises, and we had a lovely set of 100’s. We use the rachis bundles for all kinds of activities, as a way of representing numbers, determining whether numbers are even or odd, addition, and subtraction. All in a very concrete, easy to visualize way.

Using rachis bundles to represent a number

Another way that I tapped into my students interest in gathering, and specifically gathering walnuts was to create a place value tossing game. Students gathered up walnuts and each student had 10 walnuts to throw into targets worth 1’s, 10’s, 100’s, and 1,000’s. After their throws students added up their score.

Walnuts and a sycamore seed ball

Almost daily students travel to and from school with a special stick that they have gathered at the farm. We expanded into art and used stick gathering as a way to procure materials for decorated sticks. Students painted sticks and used beads and feathers to adorn their special sticks.

So much of what children show interest in during play can be used as inspiration to for creative and academic pursuits.

Schematic fascinations enable children to play with ideas and thoughts, testing them out and making links which build upon their knowledge of what they already know and can do. Adults play an important role in supporting end extending children’s schematic interests in the context of the child’s all round development and experience.

From “About schemas: learning from children’s play” from Glow Blog

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