We all know that children learn and make sense of their world through play and their tends be an innate desire to engage in repetitive play. Why is it that an infant finds such pleasure out of the simplicity of putting a block in and out of a container? Or why every toddler loves to roll items (including themselves) down ramps? Well this is where you put on your ECE researcher hat and dive into exploring schemas in children’s play.
WHAT IS SCHEMA PLAY?
According to Laura England in their book, Schemas: A Practical Handbook, “schemas are patterns of behaviour that allow young children to construct knowledge and understanding of how the world works” (Schemas: A Practical Handbook, 2018, page 5).
A simple example of schema play is an infant dropping a toy off a table over and over again. Of course the fun game of will Mommy get it again is always intriguing, but what the infant is really exploring is a schema, more specifically trajectory.
9 TYPES OF SCHEMA PLAY
EXAMPLES OF SCHEMAS IN CHILDREN’S PLAY
Tammy Lockwood from Umbrella House, created this wonderful video, there is no talking but it has wonderful live examples of children engaging in schema play.
I’ve found these examples to be profound and really make you look at their play differently and have a better understanding of what to look for as well.
WHY IS UNDERSTANDING SCHEMA PLAY IMPORTANT?
Children learn through taking the existing knowledge they have and building on top of it, adding new layers of more complex information and connecting this information to other areas.
This is Piaget’s theory of cognitive development and Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development. As Educators, understanding the what and why of children’s play allows us to support children in their development.
The repetitive nature of schemas in children’s play provides opportunities to
develop independent choices as they make decisions in an area they are familiar with
(Louis & Beswick, 2013).
All of these skills and foundational learning is why understanding schema play is so important.
We don’t have to teach children to throw, they typically discover and search out natural ways to explore this urge. As well as playing under a blanket (enclosing schema) or mixing sand and water together (transformation schema).
Carefully observing children’s play and understanding why they are engaging in a particular behaviour will allow us to create environments with materials and support to appropriately engage in and nourish these urges.
SCHEMAS ARE THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF CHILDREN’S PLAY
Claire Caro writes on the Nature Play Blog, this is an “urge” to throw or drop in either a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal direction.
The word URGE is a very important aspect of schema play, and children NEED to explore and engage with these urges because it is so much deeper than just throwing toys.
I see schema play as the building blocks of play and learning, as the starting point of emergent curriculum. The true essence of following children’s leads.
It is very easy to say “No” to a child who throws a ball across a room, or jumps off a chair, or just wants to engage in the same activity over and over and over again.
But at the root of these actions is urges, schema play. Understanding why children engage in these experiences and seeing them as play will change your perspective on which way to support the child.
IS IT A BEHAVIOUR OR SCHEMA PLAY?
Oftentimes, without the knowledge of schema play, the common actions of throwing, dumping, transporting and hiding can be seen as “behaviours” when in reality children are innately exploring these urges connected to the types of schema play.
Here’s an example,
Children throwing items.
This is commonly seen as a socially inappropriate behaviour and will probably be told to stop or redirected. When in reality the child is potentially exploring the TRAJECTORY schema, which is exploring different directions such as horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines.
When the child is told to stop, they either find more items to throw (because it’s an innate urge) or more challenging behaviours arise.
Being aware and knowledgeable on these types of schemas helps you as the educator to view these actions/behaviours differently and respond intentionally.
LOOSE PARTS PLAY SUPPORTS SCHEMA PLAY
For example, to support the child’s interest in throwing and exploring directional lines, you could provide a variety of loose parts such as:
Items that roll
The potential to explore the trajectory schema with these simple loose parts would be endless.
And would also provide sensory stimulation that helps develop children’s sensory systems and supports their self-regulation….naturally in their play!
I am an Early Childhood Consultant and very passionate about supporting and inspiring my fellow Educators. I will share my reflections and experiences about implementing my philosophy, views, and ideas into my practice.
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