Schematic Play

Parents and practitioners working with young children are often puzzled by some of the children’s actions.

Have you ever given a present to a child and noticed he/she is more interested in the box rather than the toy?

Have you ever noticed a child painting themselves or other people?

Have you ever noticed a child paint or draw a lovely picture then cover it completely in paint?

Schemas can sometimes provide the explanation!

‘Schemas are patterns of linked behaviours, which the child can generalise and use in a whole variety of different situations. It is best to think of schemas as being a cluster of pieces which fit together’. Bruce 1997

A schema is seen to be a pattern a child demonstrates through their actions, language or play. While a child may play with a variety of toys, a pattern may link these seemingly disassociated activities. Schemas indicate the child’s focus in an activity.

In the home corner at Choochoos we quite often see children, fill up bags, put things into cupboards, dress up, load prams with dolls – the focus is enveloping – exploring ‘inside’ By identifying a child’s schema we can plan his learning in ways that most interest him.

We form our schemas during childhood as a way to make sense out of our world. They are normal and natural reactions to events. Children exhibit schemas when they are playing and trying to find out more about the world.

The schemas we notice most in children at Choochoos are:

  • Trajectories – vertical, horizontal and oblique, throwing, jumping, dropping, a fascination with the beginning and end of lines.
  • Connecting – a child with a connection schema is interested in joining things together
  • Going through – going through or putting objects through things including tunnels, tubes.
  • On top – Climbing on top of objects and furniture. Being the highest
  • Rotational – going round and round
  • Positioning – Ordering, arranging and positioning items, or themselves.
  • Transporting – a child may move objects or collections of objects from one place to another, perhaps using a pram, bag or truck.
  • Enveloping and containing– covering things up and putting things inside.
  • Transformation – mixing paint, show an interest in melting jelly or ice, dressing up.
  • Scattering – emptying baskets, tipping out toys like bricks, use arms and legs to scatter, oats, pasta, rice etc. Wipe objects or toys from tables and surfaces.

Tina Bruce describes three levels of schema:

  • sensorimotor (senses and movement)
  • symbolic representation (pretend)
  • functional dependency (exploring cause and effect).

You can read about schemas in Tina Bruce, Early Childhood Education, 1997 & Chris Athey Extending Thought in Young Children 1990.