Extending opportunities for schema development

Containing schema in action

sche·ma     /ˈskēmə/

Ever wondered why your child can spend playing in the sand box, putting sand on molds, pouring it out and then doing it again? Or why your child likes carrying one toy and putting in a stroller then transports it around the living room, stopping to put it in one place and then doing the same thing all over again?

In child development practice, schemas are known as patterns of repeatable behaviors.

List of schemas are:

(taken from Dorset County Council)

Schema Description of possible behaviours
Transporting A child may carry all the bricks from one place to another in a bag, the sand from the tray to the home corner in a bucket, push a friend around in a toy pram.
Enveloping A child may cover themselves in a flannel when washing, wrap dolls and toys up in blankets and fabric, cover their painting with one colour.
A child may put their thumb in and out of their mouth, fill up and empty containers of all kinds, climb into large cartons, sit in the tunnel, build ‘cages’ with blocks.
A child may gaze at your face, drop things from their cot, make arcs in their spilt food with their hand, play with the running water in the bathroom, climb up and jump off furniture, line up the cars, bounce and kick balls, throw.
Rotation A child may be fascinated by the spinning washing machine, love anything with wheels, roll down a hill, enjoy spinning round or being swung around.
Connection A child may distribute and collect objects to and from a practitioner, spend time joining the train tracks together, stick the masking tape form across form the table to the chair.
Positioning A child may put things on their head, prefer their custard next to their sponge not over it, lie on the floor or under the table.
Transforming A child may add juice to their mashed potato, sand to the water tray, enjoy adding colour to cornflour or making dough.

Uncovering Children’s Learning: Children, parents and childminders in dialogue shows photos of children in action and brief descriptions of what the schemas are. Of course don’t forget to read Mamas in the Making post on The Urge to Play

Why is it important to understand schemas?

Given that they are repeatable behaviors, knowledge of children’s schemas will help educators and parents understand children’s motivation for doing something. For parents, it helps to understand some of the reasons why your child continues with certain behaviors for a long period of time (so do not fret, your child does not show Obsessive Compulsive Disorder characteristics).  Educators also benefit from knowing children’s schemas in planning the environment and activities. Mark Lim’s Schemas and How to Understand and Extend Children’s Behaviors is a good reading material for those wishing to know more about child’s preferences according to schemas and how to plan for activities based on them.

The following are the possible learning and development opportunities gained from schematic exploration from Schemas in Action at Thanet Early Years project:

  • problem solving
  • spatial awareness
  • shape and measure
  • speed and distance
  • volume and capacity
  • size, weight and length
  • quantity – more, fewer and the same as, counting
  • comparing attributes and relationships – similarity and difference
  • space and fit
  • cause and effect
  • transformation
  • movement
  • pushing and pulling
  • direction and position
  • up and down, side to side
  • rates of movement
  • distance
  • angles
  • use of forces
  • gradients
  • balance
  • patterns
  • sequences
  • ordering
  • co-ordination
  • gross motor skills
  • fine motor skills
  • hand eye co-ordination
  • stability
  • rhythm and sounds
  • concentration
  • perseverance, determination and resilience
  • confidence and self-esteem
  • self control
  • imagination and creativity
  • curiosity
  • intrinsic motivation to explore
  • initiative
  • independence
  • turn taking and co-operating with others
  • language, expression of intentions and interest.

Such a long list of learning possibilities, the main question is, how do you provide schema exploration with your children?


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