So first of all, what is a schema?

When an educator recognises a schema we can zone it to this behaviour pattern. To support and create our children play. The concept of schemas originated from a psychologist named Piaget, who discovered that working with schemas helped build learning around children’s understanding of their world, effectively scaffolding upon previous learning to expand children’s concepts and ideas.

Schemas are covered my many adults who are involved with Early Childhood Education, and typically, as with all theories and ideas around learning, there are opposing opinions but let’s explore them and see if your would like to use them as well.

A schema is a child’s urge to do something and can be displayed physically, verbally or creatively. They are described as patterns of repeated behaviour; such as lining up toys, repeatedly emptying blocks out of a container; or being obsessed with particular toys such as those with wheels. All these are examples of schemas or patterns of behaviour which children display as they explore play and the world around them. Essentially it is a child’s way of finding out how things work, in their own unique way.

Schemas are an important part in every child’s development and are covered in training for anyone involved in early childhood education. Knowing about these urges, can help to understand why our children are so determined to do certain things. Knowing about schemas educators can recognise and support our children’s urges and development through play; it helps us to understand why children also act a particular way.

By watching your child’s activities you can identify which Schema they might be experiencing, start to plan experiences that they’ll enjoy and extend their thinking by giving them other activities and toys that match that schema and will hold their interest; therefore developing their explorations and learning through play. You may even be able to minimise some of the more undesired aspects of your child’s actions and behaviours.

What are the main schemas that I can look out for?
So, researchers have actually come up with many different schemas. Too many for me to go over AND I am also not an expert in this area. However, there are a few main ones which I believe we as parents can easily identify and will have already noticed these in our children’s actions and behaviours during play.

ENCLOSURE ~ putting things inside other things
This is a very strong schema which our eldest has displayed since she was about 18 months. She is obsessed with putting things in tupperware containers, bags, boxes, pockets and putting loads of toys and other things into her doll’s pram to transport around.

Other traits that you may have noticed in your child, which lend themselves to this schema are building fences around animals, filling cups with water, sand etc or even filling their pockets with stones.

Children who are following an enclosure schema are developing their understanding of capacity and volume. These concepts are important in the development of mathematical and scientific knowledge.

Knowing that your child is displaying this schema, could give you other ideas for their play that fit this interest: playing in tents, sorting a set of Russian Dolls, making food that has something inside (such as pies, sandwiches), or hiding in large boxes.

TRAJECTORY – interacting with things that are moving.
Trajectory is all about straight lines up and down or across.The urge to throw, drop, climb up and jump off things. The child may spend a long time in the bathroom playing with running water, make lines of toys, bounce balls, enjoy pouring things or draw/paint in straight lines.

If you notice this schema, you could create activities that involve throwing such as pom-poms to be thrown into a bucket. Go outside and throw sticks or balls. Make paper planes. Head outdoors to climb a small hill or the steps of a slide in the park. At bath time provide funnels for water to flow through.

CONNECTING – joining things together
A connection schema is all about connecting things together. It does not necessarily need to link or interconnect either like a train track. Children following a connection schema may pat you on the hand or place a hand on your arm. These children just love to connect! Joining train tracks, clicking together pieces of lego, running a string from one thing to another… the urge of Connection. This can mean connecting and disconnecting too, building followed by destruction, and that can mean other peoples buildings and sandcastles get destructed when the urge gets hold.

Activities that can build on this schema include, building bridges, threading beads, playing with pipes or funnels, dominoes, jigsaws and magnets…just to mention a few.

ENVELOPING – covering things
A child who is fascinated with wrapping themselves up in materials and likes to cover their hands and body with paint are following an envelopment schema. These children enjoy exploring under and inside. They like to fill bags, wrap up parcels, dress up, bury things – including their hands and feet – play inside tents and tunnels. 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.

There are a number of other schemas including Orientation, Transporting, Positioning, Rotation, Transformation and more. Don’t worry if you can’t identify all these schemas in your child, they may not have reached that stage of exploration yet. Likewise, some children display more than one at once, making it difficult to decide which area of play to focus on.Baby playing with blocks and sorting shapes

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