Enclosure Schemas

You might recognize some of the play below if you had a chance to read the article we connected with last week explaining schemas in child development.  For the past week, we’ve noticed an increase in enclosure and containment play where the children are creating small worlds or rooms for themselves within non-traditional containment spots.  It does look like they are having great fun, but what are they actually learning? How does this help them grow?

Before you can begin to decide where to hide your body,
you must first know what size you are.

We watched the children navigate through many possible natural enclosures.  Some were too small, some too low, some were too squishy.  As they tried to fit their bodies into spaces between branches, they reassessed and redefined their ideas about their own body size in relation to what they can see.  Adjustments to preconceived ideas, concerning size and shape, had to be made.  When adding structure to an enclosure, angles and length must be taken into account.  Spacial relationships grew within their cognitive and muscle memories.

But can this information really help them?

You know that moment when you are packing up the left-over dinner and you realize you just started pouring the chili into a storage container that is never, ever going to be able to contain all of the remaining soup?  That moment. Right there. Spatial understanding is a part of our daily lives.  How can we organize the books on the shelf? How best to pack the moving van before we traipse across the country for our first real job?

Is that enough?

Not to worry. There’s more.  Now that they have spent lots and lots and lots of time squishing themselves into fun little spaces, they know exactly where their limbs and digits are.  We take it for granted that we know where our fingers and toes end.  When I spin in a circle, I can adequately judge whether or not my arms will strike something. When contemplating a leap across a stream, I can correctly deduce the speed and height I need to make it across.  It is not so for young children.  They honestly don’t know that doing a cart-wheel next to their friend is going to end in a bloody nose.  It takes practice to make the neural connections needed for body and spacial awareness.

Here we are witnessing multiple experiments of enclosure and containment.  Sometimes it involves small items and other times the whole body is involved.  Either way, we bask in the beauty of the human mind at work.

Many Ways of Writing

“I can’t do it!”

“Can you tell me what to write?”

“I don’t know how to write.”

Pre-Kindergarten children frequently utter some mighty disparaging words. One of our first tasks in Pre-K involves teaching young children what writing really is.  We must show them that four-year-old children write in many different ways.  For instance, each of the lines below say, “I love my mom.”


All of these (and many more) are ways that English speaking young humans communicate through printed symbols.  We often take it for granted that drawings are a way of writing.  What is a drawing if not an abstract symbol of a more concrete object or idea?  A child who is “drawing pictures” when asked to “write” is still showing you that he or she knows a lot about writing.  They know that the marks they make on paper can be a way of delivering information.

The second line contains what many would call “scribbles,” but an attuned eye would notice the similarity to text in our own culture.  The horizontal placement and combination of curves and straight lines reflects a child’s experiences with printed text.  Imagine looking at a piece of work written in an unknown language using an unknown system of symbols to communicate meaning.  Your first attempts to recreate it from memory would probably appear a bit like scribbles, too.  It is a normal progression of development for children to express themselves through scribbles and pictures to help them communicate their knowledge or feelings through writing.

Next in the line up is the line of “letter-like symbols.” The child is getting closer to understanding and recalling the shapes used in our written language, but form and directionality are not necessarily obvious to the child yet. Babies spend a large amount of time learning that an object remains the same no matter what is done to it.  A blanket can be flat, rolled up, right-side up or torn in half and it is still a blanket.  When we throw letters and numbers into the mix, children find directional rules perplexing. It takes time, experience and brain growth to accept and understand the special rules for writing.

The next step is actually missing from the image above.  It would include a string of random letters.  Children who write in this way know that the shapes of the letters are important.  They are simply still working on the idea that the order of the symbols changes the meaning of the text.

The next developmental progression has a pre-requisite.  In the example “ILM” the child is using the first letter-sound in each word to represent the entire word.  Before a child can write in this way, he or she must have lots of experience identifying beginning sounds in spoken words. A child writing in this manner shows me that they understand some of the auditory relationships between spoken and written language.

The second to last example tells us that the child is beginning to hear some middle and ending sounds in words, as well.  Another possibility is that the child is not yet hearing vowels (the most difficult to discern), but does have a few traditional spellings memorized, such as “mom.”

The final example is written in traditional “adult print.” It contains all of the letters and spaces an adult would use.  Pre-K children are not expected to get here by the end of Pre-K.  Most Kindergarten students will not be here by the end of next year.  Of the few Pre-K and K students I’ve worked with who were reading at a first or second grade level, none were writing like adults on a consistent basis.  They are not supposed to. Their brains just aren’t there yet. It is O.K.

For the first few weeks of school, we focus on convincing the children that they CAN write.  They are Pre-K children and are expected to write like Pre-K children.  Once we succeed it is much easier to help them progress.  You can help in a couple of ways:

  • Positively recognize attempts to communicate through writing and drawing
  • Remind your child that he or she is NOT a grown-up
  • Choose to accept approximations of writing as valid forms of communication
  • Let your child see you make mistakes. We ARE adults. We are NOT perfect.