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On the Move Again

Dr Stella Louis is an author and leading early years consulting, specialising in Schemes, Observation and Characteristics of Effective Learning, Equality, Race and Unconscious Bias and Froebelian Practice and Principles.

In her fourth article for That Nursery Life, Dr Stella Louis explores how groups of schemas fit together and relate to each other.

As children’s schemas become coordinated, it is possible to observe more than one schema. Schemas are a learning mechanism; they help children to fit their first-hand experiences into their mental structures (thinking). Tina Bruce (1997) reminds us that ‘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’.

This article will explore how the trajectory and transporting schema fits together. The transporting schema is when children are interested in moving themselves or their playthings from one place to another. Sometimes it may appear that a child’s play has no real purpose and that they are moving things only for the pleasure it evokes. That said, a child could be exploring a particular concept.

The more we carefully observe children, the more we will begin to see that they are not moving from one activity to another but are being selective about what they move, carry, pull, push and transport. Children may begin to match objects, such as brooms carried in a trolley for sweeping the roads or the teddy in the pram to be taken on a walk.

Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh from Pexels

For example, 2-year-old Raphael is fascinated by lines (trajectory schema – interested in horizontal or vertical lines). In his play and explorations, he is increasingly linking this to transport, as in trains and train tracks, diggers that move material from one place to another, cranes that lift things up and down and so on (transporting schema).

Observations of Raphael reveal that, although his dominant schema is trajectory, he likes to watch diggers at work on a nearby building site. Recently he was observed picking up as many toy vehicles as he could tuck into his arms. He then realised that he had so many he had to find places about his person to stow them, - so that he could move them altogether and all at once. He put some inside his jumper and one up his sleeve and carried on transporting cars outside from one place to another. He found his scooter and whizzed off in pleasingly straight lines.

Raphael is learning about himself; he knows he can affect things and has a clear sense of agency. He can problem solve. Symbolically he can be like a real-world vehicle, moving things just as they do. He turned himself into a container for the small world vehicles and knows he can carry things in order to move them, just as real-world vehicles do. He can move fast, just as a train does. He can feel the effects of his action when he speeds off. He can stop at will on his scooter, just as real-world vehicles do. This is functional dependency – when one function is dependent on another. He likes to say “wheee” as he whizzes along on his scooter, symbolically representing the little red train in his favourite book. He can move himself, in what he perceives to be straight lines, from one place to another, echoing what real world and small world vehicles do. Raphael will talk about how fast he rode his scooter. This demonstrates abstract thought – that he talks about the speed of the scooter. However, movement seems integral to his experience of straight lines and to his interests in vehicles, so is it a case of a cluster of schemas; two schemas coming together?

There are three important facts about schemas that educators need to know. Firstly, children present their schemas through their movements and actions. For example, putting themselves or objects into a container (containing) or covering themselves, objects and spaces (enveloping). They also show us their thinking in their drawings, painting, models and construction, as well as what they talk to us about. It is important to note that children with similar schema tend to play together more amicably than children with a different schema. Adults need to observe the detail of what children are doing. Are they moving things in, on or under? Are they filling and emptying buckets and containers? Are they pushing and pulling things? Are they gathering and collecting everyday objects?

Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

Secondly, although every child will have a dominant schema, schemas develop in clusters and are based on children’s first-hand experiences and interaction with the world.

Frequently observed clusters include trajectory, transporting, containing and enveloping. When adults observe schemas running throughout children’s play, they can use this information in their planning to support future learning. Adults can provide children with wheelbarrows, bags, purses, buckets, suitcases and baskets with loose parts to transport to all areas of the learning environment (both indoors and outdoors). For example, if adults observe that a child likes to transport objects by pushing or pulling them, they can provide a variety of objects indoors and outdoors to support them exploring the experience in some depth. Keep in mind the different levels that schemas operate on; sensory and movement, symbolic representation, functional dependency and abstract thought.

Thirdly, if children are moving things that adults do not want them to transport, rather than stopping their play and criticising their behaviour, they should provide them with alternative objects to move that link to the ideas that they are already exploring.

Ultimately, adults have a pedagogical responsibility to keep the play going by providing appropriate resources and materials. The transporting schema is important because it helps children to experience gradual increases in quantity. This knowledge is essential for understanding the mathematical concept of adding, taking away and classification. Children may also be learning about space, direction and position.

Finally, adults need to ensure that they are offering children sufficient opportunities and resources for them to develop and explore their ideas through their schema cluster.