Much like how there’s the Wonder Weeks to dispel the mysteries of a newborn baby and their mental development phases, when I discovered there was such a thing as Schemas in how toddlers play, everything made so much more sense! If you’ve ever wondered why your little one is showing little interest in an activity you’ve presented, or if you’ve noticed that they’ve begun a repetitive behaviour, they could be entering a Schema! Knowing what Schema your child is in makes all the difference and I really believe this is a topic that ALL parents need to know!
What are schemas and how can they be used to enhance learning?
Schemas are patterns of repeatable behaviour which can often be noticed in young children’s play.
The concept of schemas was founded by psychologist Jean Piaget who suggested that children sort the knowledge they acquire through their experiences and interactions into groupings known as schemas.
A child can demonstrate one, or several, or no schemas at a particular time. Learning to observe the schemas can help us to better support their learning and exploration.
The way I interpreted this was to think back to when I’m ‘in the zone’ or in ‘flow state’. It’s always when I’m doing something that I am deeply passionate about; I’m doing activities that I have a natural urge to do. There’s a skill or craft that I’m trying to master.
Schemas can help us to better respond to our children’s behaviour for child-led play. It also enables us to better interact with our children by feeding them appropriate activities, language and questions that support their thinking so can they become deeply engaged.
Cheat sheet to supporting common schemas in how toddlers play
|BEHAVIOUR PATTERNS||SCHEMA||PLAY IDEAS||KEY WORDS||WATCH OUT FOR|
|Throwing things to see how they fall, lots of horizontal and vertical movement like throwing and kicking balls, playing with running water||Trajectory||Provide: marble runs, ramps (for pushing cars/toys off), building blocks (build then knock down), building and knocking down sand castles, rolling/throwing/kicking balls|
Facilitate dramatic play: aeroplanes, spaceships, building sites
|Fly, spin, twirl, glide, float, drop, bounce, swing, up, down, fast, slow||Hard objects, vigorous movement, dining out can become difficult as children may appear to be misbehaving when they climb/throw/jump|
|Picking things up, moving things around, hands always full||Transporting||Provide: vehicles and objects for movement such as wheelbarrows, trolleys (blocks), bags, trucks, jugs (water/sand), prams (dolls/toys), or suitcases, going to the library and post office |
Facilitate dramatic play: moving houses, picnics, shopping
|In, on, under, empty/full,half-full, overflowing, all gone, open/closed||Lost objects, moving things to inappropriate areas (full jugs of water on a bed, buckets of sand indoors, etc)|
|Loves wheels/balls and things that turn||Rotation||Provide: Construction toys with cogs, vehicles with wheels, locks and keys, paint rollers, spanners, screwdrivers, making windmills, spinning objects, musical boxes|
Facilitate dramatic play: Pretending to be in washing machine, ballerina spinning, construction site
|Fly, spin, twirl, round, circle, spiral, dizzy, twist||Be mindful of oven knobs, heater dials, etc|
|Joining things together, ties things up||Connecting||Provide: train tracks, puzzles, construction toys, LEGO/DUPLO, dressing/undressing, buttoning/unbuttoning, zipping/unzipping, playing with sticky tape, glue, threading with beads/pasta/ribbons, gathering playdough, water play, magnetic fishing, dominos|
Facilitate dramatic play: Human train, writing shopping list or recipe (sequence)
|Build, construct, join, separate, together, apart, flexible, rigid, bendy, stretchy, strong, fragile, knot, thread||Frustration when things are tied up|
|Building fences/walls/borders, getting into boxes||Enclosing||Provide: Tents, cardboard castles/fort, huts, tunnels, wrapping paper/playdough around toys, dollhouse|
Facilitate dramatic play: Buried treasure, beds for dolls, hiding in caves, pretend parcels, doctor (wrap bandages), construction site (make fences, bridges, walls)
|Enclose, wrap, inside/outside, bigger, smaller, longer, shorter, corner, side, entrance, exit, contain, on top, underneath, beside, on top||Lost objects|
|Arranging, ordering and positioning items obsessively, lining things up in order of size, colour or shape||Positioning||Provide: Babushka dolls, objects for sorting and stacking, balancing games, things and materials to line-up, peg boards to create patterns|
Facilitate dramatic play: Shops (arranging products in order)
|Inside, on top, under, behind, between, next to, in front, straight line||May not like food to be mixed together|
|Wraps things up, covering objects or themselves||Enveloping||Provide: Materials such as wrapping paper or cloths/blankets to cover themselves or objects, play dress-up, provide boxes/bags/cases/baskets to fill in, paper mache|
Facilitate dramatic play: Post office (wrap parcels), buried treasure
|Under, over, visible, invisible, transparent, hidden, wrap/unwrap, full/empty||Wearing too many layers|
|Experimenting with things that change in shape, colour, consistency||Transforming||Provide: Glue, paint, making playdough, cooking, sand and water play, making bubbles, freezing and melting things|
Facilitate dramatic play: Dressing up, face painting , wearing masks
|Wetting, freezing, melting, changing, smoothing, mixing, blending, combining||Nothing stays clean, expect to change lots of clothes! May combine unusual items together during meals like add juice/water to food.|
|Observing things from different viewpoints such as hanging upside down, looking through their legs, climbing to see a higher position||Orientation||Provide: Kaleidoscopes, binoculars, magnifying glasses, mirrors, pendulums, climbing frame|
Facilitate dramatic play: Scientist, explorer
|Turn, twist, roll, backwards/forwards||May get themselves or objects stuck in unsafe positions|
Get ready to feel more confident about supporting your toddler’s play!
Observe behaviour patterns and identify which schema your child is interested in. You can then offer toys and activities that help them to make the most of their investigations.
Organise play dates with other children in similar schemas to promote friendship and bonding over a shared interest.
Here are a few books if you’re looking for extended schema learning:
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