Do you have a child that loves endlessly connecting Lego blocks and one giant tower?
Or you might have a child that has a fascination with sticking objects to velcro, and will do this for a huge amount of time.
It’s highly likely that these children are demonstrating a connecting schema.
Put simply, a connection schema is when children are interested in connecting objects. They may demonstrate a fascination for tying things together or connecting objects in other ways.
In this post, I’ll look at exactly what I connecting schema is, why you will want to support it, and all the best activities to help this type of schema flourish.
What Is A Schema?
A schema is a child development theory that has been prevalent in early education for about the last 100 years.
Schemas are repeated patterns of behavior that you observe in a child.
The theory behind it is that children create models of reality in their minds. Schemas are repeated behaviors that children use to test these models on reality.
For example, if a child spends a large amount of time moving objects around the learning space in a range of different ways, then they are probably exhibiting a transporting schema.
Likewise, if a child enjoys lining up toys such as cars or building blocks in a line, they are probably demonstrating a positioning schema.
Schemas are a fantastic insight into how children learn and how they observe the world.
They are much more than just an abstract issue. By helping to support children’s schemas, they will deepen their play and accelerate their rates of progress and learning.
What Is A Connection Schema?
Children that demonstrate a connection schema are interested in joining things together.
If they are able to, they will attempt to tie objects together. They are interested in any objects that naturally connect to others, for example, construction toys, magnets, or Velcro.
Like many schemas, there are also opposites at play. So children with this schema will often enjoy disconnecting objects just as much as they are interested in connecting them.
This connection schema also extends to opening and closing. So a child that is interested in opening and closing doors repeatedly may well be demonstrating this schema.
What You May See
- a fascination for objects that naturally connect to others such as magnets or Velcro
- A deep interest in construction toys of all kinds
- Tying objects up with string or other materials
- Opening and closing objects repeatedly such as doors or boxes
- They may enjoy holding hands or group hugs
What They Are Learning
Children that demonstrate this type of schema are discovering how things fasten, join and separate.
They are learning about the forces of push and pull, and also about shape.
There are many benefits to supporting schemas when you have observed them. These include:
- Supporting schemas generate curiosity in children which is a huge motivator to learning
- Supporting schemas help deepen and intensify children’s play
- You can help children learn at a more accelerated rate
- You help work alongside children’s interests, and harness their natural instincts
27 Activities That Support A Connection Schema
Here are a range of both child-led and adult-led learning experiences that can help to support a connection schema:
1. Use Real Tools
This is a fantastic activity to try with some adult supervision for safety.
Real tools provide all sorts of connection schema opportunities, such as:
- Children can use screwdrivers unsecured screws into soft materials such as cork board
- They can attach materials together by hammering in small pins
- You can use spanners to connect and disconnect cogs of bolts
2. Threading Leaves
Leaves are one of the easiest natural materials to connect together.
One way is for the kids to use a whole bunch to create a hole in each leaf. They then thread the leaves onto string or long pieces of wool.
3. Make Worry Dolls
Worry dolls are a fantastic activity to help children process anxiety and worry.
Children can create their own worry dolls by having one stick and a selection of colored wool.
Simply wind some colored wool repeatedly around the stick. You can create patterns of colors on the stick, and also connect other materials to it such as leaves or petals (connected by the wool). They will look something like the big one in this picture:
The idea of worry dolls is that a child tells the doll whatever is worrying them.
You can use them as part of circle time. Pass around the worry doll, and each child tells it one of their worries.
There are many different ways of using worry dolls. I wrote a full article here about the ultimate 14 ways to use worry dolls.
4. Create Journey Sticks
Journey sticks help children learn about their environment, as well as provide an excellent stimulus for talk.
The idea is to go on a short walk with a group of children. You find different small objects on the walk, take them back and attach them to a stick.
You can attach objects with things like string or rubber bands.
So on a walk, you might find a leaf, some flowers, some conkers, and a twig. Attach these to the stick! It will look something like this:
The journey stick helps you remember your journey. You can also refer to it a few days later talk about what you saw.
It is a great tool for:
- Generating talk
- Understanding our environment
- Beginning to learn about mapping
5. Stacking Stones
There are several transient art artists let’s have stacking stones as their principal medium.
You can check out my article about some of the best transient artists here.
Kids enjoy stacking flat stones and building small towers.
6. Clothespin Models
Clothespins are a fantastic resource to create connecting models.
They can be combined with other loose parts to help children build and construct.
For example, the kids I taught really enjoyed making these trees.
All you need is some popsicle sticks and a lump of playdough for the trunk, and some clothespins for the branches.
You can also decorate these trees in a range of different ways. You can create:
- Christmas trees by adding little pieces of tinsel or small baubles to the tree
- Trees in the full by adding orange red and yellow materials to the trees (for example, pipecleaners or tissue paper)
7. Den Building
Den building involves all sorts of connecting materials together. To create dens, accumulate some of the following materials:
- A tarpaulin
- A range of sticks
- A camouflage net
- String or rope
8. Leaf Kebabs
Here’s another fantastic leaf activity.
Each child needs a skewer. They go around collecting leaves and piercing them on the skewer.
Keep on collecting leaves and adding them to the skewer, and in the end, you will have a leaf kebab.
9. Tying Objects With String
It’s great to just let some kids unleash with a ball of string!
They will enjoy wrapping it around a range of different objects.
Some children love tying up trees!
Some will make connections between fences.
Others might wrap objects together, or tie things up.
10. Paper Dolls
This is best done as an adult-led activity, to help the children have a fighting chance of being successful.
Here’s a youtube video that simply walks you through how to make paper dolls in case you’re not sure:
11. Construction Toys
All construction toys are good for a connection schema.
- Creating long chains
- Creating towers
- The simple action of joining things together
Some great construction toys to support a connection schema include:
Pretty much anything that joins together in some sort of way
12. Daisy Chains
These are not easy to make by any means for many children, but many will be able to make them with support or working in a team.
You need some kind of fingernail to pierce the daisy stems!
Create a small hole in each stem, and thread another daisy through the hole.
13. Magnetic Loose Parts
Any kind of magnetic investigation is perfect for a connexion schema.
You can do classic activities like searching the room for magnetic materials.
one activity I found children really like is using magnetic loose parts. You need some kind of magnetic board for this, and also a range of metal loose parts, such as bolts, screws, metal discs, and bottle tops.
Here is what my set-up looks like:
Children can then create loose parts images and transient art on the boards.
You could create:
- Characters from stories
- Images of whatever they like
14. Making Walkways And Obstacle Courses
Outdoor big loose parts are brilliant for teaching a range of skills.
They help a connection schema in that you can create walkways and obstacle courses with them.
Children could use:
- Tree stumps
They can create walkways and balance as they walk along them.
15. Paper Chains
This is a great activity at Christmas, or maybe other festival or celebration times.
You need a good collection of colored rectangular paper.
Bend one piece over, and glue it into a band shape. Then thread another piece through the band, bend that round, and glue that one into a band.
Keep going with this process until you have a long linked chain.
Velcro could have been made for connection schemas!
You can have strips of Velcro attached to pieces of card, and the kids go on an indoor scavenger hunt and find objects to stick to it.
17. Containers With Lids
This is really simple!
But some children will just really enjoy taking off lids and putting them back on again.
Just by supplying enough containers, you will really support this process.
18. Dolls house with doors
If you want to keep children away from opening and closing larger doors, then targeting this fascination on something like a doll’s house might be the way to go.
Many doll’s houses will have multiple doors (and windows), that can be opened and closed to the child’s heart’s content!
19. Spider Webs
You probably have lots of children obsessed with superman. It’s one of the biggest obsessions known to man.
So why not make spider webs?!
These are easily done by wrapping lots of string in between trees, or posts.
I have also played this game where the pieces of string are the ‘lasers’. Children have to get across the obstacle without touching the ‘lasers’!
20. Masking Tape Junk Models
All you need for this is a few recycled boxes, tubes, cartons, and anything else like that.
Children can connect them together using masking tape to create models.
21. Nuts And Bolts Loose Parts Play
Many children with a connection schema, will just love fiddling with nuts and bolts.
I used to have a big frame that I had created for this. It was a wooden board, with lots of blunt screws sticking up through it.
The kids could spin nuts and bolts onto the screws.
I also did something similar for phonics. I created these:
They are screws with three bolts with letters on attached to them.
The children spin around the bolts to try to make words.
22. Train Tracks
You will often have loads of children that are fascinated by train tracks, and the connection of any tracks (whether they are plastic, wooden, or whatever else) is great for stimulating a connection schema.
23. DIY Finger Boards
This is another brilliant fine motor activity.
I created these boards with a range of fine motor activities on them:
To do something similar, all you need is a wooden board of some sort and screw on a range of materials that children can ‘fiddle’ with.
On the board in the picture, some good connection activities include:
- Putting a plug in a socket
- Using latches
- Fiddling with bolts and nuts
25. Creating Knots
Teaching the kids how to create different knots is great for problem-solving and spatial awareness skills.
You can use a cord, string, or rope.
This youtube video demonstrates 5 simple knots that children can attempt:
26. Building Famous Buildings
One way of really inspiring children when using construction toys is to have a selection of pictures of famous buildings for them to look at.
Some good pictures might be of:
- The Eiffel Tower
- The Sydney Opera House
- The Taj Mahal
- The Empire State Building
27. Weaving Frame
You can buy cheap weaving frames, or potentially even make your own. You can make them, for example, out of the kind of plastic netting you often find around roadworks (if you can manage to borrow some of this!)
Kids can weave with wool, string, leaves, long dry grass, or whatever else you have to hand.
Connection schemas are generally one of the more positive schemas and can be supported safely and easily with little hassle.
By just providing lots of materials that can be joined, and the means of joining them, this is a schema that can be continually and simply supported throughout your learning space.