Planting Potatoes and Schema

Schema is one of those buzzwords you hear all the time in education right now.  Schema is background knowledge.  It’s all the “stuff” you have in your brain about a particular topic.  For example, if I’m learning about the topic of flight, my schema on the topic will be everything I have ever read, listened to, watched, heard of, or seen about flight.  It’s kind of like a mental filing cabinet.

My son was reading a non-fiction piece the other day.  The topic was the Irish potato famine.  As he was reading, he started to wonder aloud if the disease affecting the potatoes was spread through the soil or through the air by insects.

Immediately, I knew he was using his schema.  We have been planting potatoes in our family garden for many years.  The kids love planting their potatoes and digging them up is just about the favorite day of the summer.


This reminded me that EVERYTHING we do with our children enhances their schema.  You may not think that planting a garden will build literacy skills, but it does! My son could visualize, as he was reading, how potatoes grow.  He knows what a potato plant looks like and the way the all of the potatoes are connected to each other when you dig them up.  As we were talking, I could see his mind working as he wondered aloud.  We didn’t find the answer to his question in the book he was reading, but I was thrilled with the way he used his schema about potatoes to think about the text.
What simple tasks do you do around the house with your kids?  Think about the little things.  Everything we do builds our schema in some way or another.

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