Have you ever heard the term Schema in relation to play and development and wondered what it means? Today I thought that I would share some thoughts on what schemas are and how understanding them can help you to help your child learn in a fun and effective way.

What is a Schema?

Schemas are patterns of repeated behaviours performed by children. They allow children to explore new things, new ideas and to express their developing ideas and and thoughts through play and explorations. Jean Piaget noted in his research that learning happened in stages, as children appeared to make the same patterns of mistakes at the same ages. He “used the term schema to describe the mental representations that develop as children have new experiences and put new ideas and abilities together.” Athey in 2007 stated that “A schema is a pattern of repeated actions. Clusters of schemas develop into later concepts.” But enough of the theory stuff…

Schemas can be seen as children’s fascinations, obsessions. We all know a child who has gone through a throwing things phase, where every night turns into Greek Night! A child who has gone through a squishing and squashing everything phase, or a pouring phase where dinnertime ends up being a pool of water and smushed sandwiches!

Enveloping at its best!

They are basically the way in which our children construct meaning in what they are doing. By us as adults providing them with the hands on experiences they need, they will learn to problem solve, predict, imagine and develop their independent thought.

Trajectory with large rocks and a river!

Types of schema

There are many types of schema:

  • Trajectory – creating lines in space, both horizontal and vertical. So climbing, jumping, dropping things from height, throwing, pushing, kicking.
  • Positioning – lining things up and putting them in groups. Remember these things might have precise placements!
  • Enveloping – covering themselves or objects. Basically, wrapping things and putting them in containers, trying on clothes and hats.
  • Rotating – spinning, themselves and items. This might also involve swinging or running in circles, rolling or riding bikes.
  • Enclosing – adding boundaries, for example fences to the farm animals, arranging food round the edges of their plates, and building walls.
  • Transporting – carrying or moving things from one place to another, carrying items in backs, pushing them on trolleys or wheelbarrows and vehicles.
  • Connecting – setting out and dismantling tracks or construction materials. These material include blocks, rope, and tape. They also might like suspending items.
  • Transforming – exploring the changing states of materials. For example, solids to liquids and back again. The wonderous wet sandwich that then gets wrung out!
  • Orienteering – positioning themselves or objects in different places or positions, e.g upside down or looking through their legs. Or in my children’s case from a very early age climbing to see things from a higher point of view.

Over a series of posts I would like to explore each of these schemas and suggest some outdoors activities to promote each of them. I hope you would like to follow along for the journey.

Do you have any funny stories to share about some of the things your children have done when developing schemas? Share them in the comments below.

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