Tag Archives: schema

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The Power of Schematic Play

Schematic play is fascinating to watch and can be a very informative way of analysing children’s thinking.

I have written previously about the mixed feelings some practitioners have about schemas – find the blog post here – but schematic play is now identified in the EYFS and can be a powerful learning process for young children. For this reason, I’m going to focus on one very typical type of schematic play – Transporting.

Let’s start a the beginning though. Athey (2007) defines schema as ‘patterns of behaviour and thinking in children that exist underneath the surface feature of various contents, contexts and specific experience’ (page 5).

So when you are looking out for a particular schema, you must observe children’s behaviour and see if that behaviour is repeated in many different areas of play, such as drawings, physical activities, 3D modelling, role play and sand play.

Using the Transporting schema as an example, do you see the children:

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Fabulous Resources

As a trainer and lecturer, I’m always on the look out for resources that will support best practice in settings as well as resources that will make my lectures and tutorials interesting.

In the last week, just like buses, I have come across not one, but two exceedingly good resources.

The first is from ‘in the picture’, who are already well known for their training and information videos and DVDs. They have now branched out into some eye-catching booklets, the most recent of which is ‘Spot the Schema’*.

Schemas are a fascinating part of children’s development. By spotting schemas practitioners, parents and carers can support children’s learning more effectively and make sense of seemingly unconnected behaviour.

However, some of the standard texts about schema can be highly academic and this can sometimes discourage people from finding out more about this extremely interesting subject.

The “Spot the Schema” booklet produced by in the picture solves this problem wonderfully. The booklet is beautifully produced, in an easy to read format, in bright colours. Eight of the most common schemas are covered, including transporting and enveloping.

Each schema has a double page spread with signs to look out for, irritating behaviours and, most importantly, things you can do to extend learning and thinking. These are laid out in a stylish way and accompanied by some charming photographs of children playing.

But the real beauty of this booklet is its accessibility. Practitioners with little or no knowledge of schema can use this booklet immediately. Each schema is explained clearly with some really practical activities, which can be incorporated into the daily routines. The ‘signs to look out for’ sections summarise the salient points for each schema, including the children’s learning and development opportunities.

Particularly useful are the ideas for outings. All too often the advice given to practitioners concentrates on activities within the setting, without exploring the rich learning opportunities on trips and visits. These ideas are deceptively simple, but are the sorts of things that children would remember for a long time afterwards, such as watching marching in parades or visiting a train station. My son still remembers the elephant weeing at the zoo….

There is also a comprehensive reading list for those practitioners and parents who would like to read further about schema.

This booklet is suitable for those just coming across schematic play for the first time, as well as experienced practitioners, parents and carers who are looking for new ideas to support their children’s learning. The high production quality values will ensure that it will become a resource that I will be using time after time.

The second resource is on another subject close to my heart – the under 3s. Produced with Nursery World, this set of DVDs, entitled Enhance Active Learning When Working with under 3s, is a set of 4 DVDs aimed at supporting sensory play, communication and language, music rhymes and story telling and physical activities.

Each DVD also includes a power point as well as examples of good practice.

I feel these DVDs will bring life and demonstrate good practice well, both on training courses and during lectures. The presentation is very upbeat and not too ‘teachery’ – just what you need on a late night course!

If you have already used either of these resources, why not leave a comment and tell everyone what YOU think about them?

* Disclaimer: Victoria from in the picture sent me an advance, complimentary copy of this booklet to do the review.

The image comes from Jeffrey Beall Thanks, Jeffrey.

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Schema and Fairies

Schemas are one of those things that divide practitioners, like fairies at the bottom of the garden.

You either believe in them and are in absolute awe at how amazing they are, or you just don’t believe they exist. It’s really interesting when you discuss this with people and it’s extra exciting when a ‘non-believer’ suddenly says “That describes my key child exactly!!”

But first of all, let’s explore what a schema is.

Athey (2007) defines schema as ‘patterns of behaviour and thinking in children that exist underneath the surface feature of various contents, contexts and specific experience’ (page 5). Nutbrown (2006) extends this to patterns of ‘action and behaviour’ (page 10). Schema are the repeated actions of children exhibited during their play, drawings, 3D modelling, movement and speech.

For example, for a child with a transporting schema, carrying (transporting) objects is the most important or engaging part of their play.

Typically, a ‘transporter’ will pack everything into bags, prams or buckets and carry them around the setting. Sand play may consist of carrying the sand to the water tray. The bikes outdoors will be used to transport toys.

There are many different identified schema. Athey (2007) describes 10 graphic, 11 space and 9 dynamic schema (page 62) which vary from transporter to going through a boundary. She identified these through prolonged and in depth research of children over a period of 5 years, with a skilled team of researchers.

So far, so good.

But why hasn’t everybody else spotted these and made the connections? As Athey comments (page 7) this hasn’t arisen from ‘common sense’, it is the result of research and pedagogy.

These are the sort of things that you need to learn about and understand so you can see them hidden in the children’s play. Often during courses, as I am explaining the sorts of things a child with a strong schema may do, a practitioner or parent says, in surprise, “But that’s exactly what my child does! We’ve never really understood why” or “that has never made sense before, but now it seems so obvious!”

Once identified, the practitioner can use that knowledge to select activities and experiences which will engage the child. For example, if a practitioner wishes to engage a ‘transporter’ in some mathematical development, then counting toys into a pram, pushing them to the other side of the room and counting the toys out again is likely to be an engaging game.

A child with a rotational schema will be intrigued by bike wheels, windmills and spirographs. By really tuning into the types of things that highly motivate a child, the most suitable sort of experiences, which support the child’s development, can be provided.

A very practical book to use for activity ideas is Again! Again! by Sally Featherstone (2008), which gives lots of ideas for schematic play in each of the areas in a setting, such as water, sand, outdoors etc.

However, it should be noted that not every child has strong schemas, some children may only display schematic play for a short period of time before moving onto another schema or some children may never display schematic play. Which is where the non-believers come in.

If you have never had a key child with a strong schema then it is quite far fetched to believe that, for example, a very young child can make ‘rotational’ connections in his or her drawings, movement outside and preferred toys.

But once you have worked with such a child you start to see schema everywhere. In fact, you can start to see it in adults too!

Just like fairies at the bottom of the garden, once there is proof there in front of you, it is difficult to deny. Unlike the fairies, schemas definitely exist and are incredibly useful for supporting child development.

References
Athey, C (2007) Extending Thought in Young Children (2nd Ed) London: PCP
Featherstone, S. (2008) Again! Again! Understanding schema in young children Featherstone Education
Nutbrown, C. (2006) Threads of Thinking London: Sage

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Extending Thought in Young Children by Chris Athey

This book was recommended to me with the words “this will change the way you look at children’s learning forever”. Strong words.

The book is one of the results of the Froebel Early Education Project, which was run by Chris Athey from 1973 to 1978, at the Roehampton Institute of Higher Education, London. Tina Bruce was the appointed teacher. The children came from nearby Wandsworth, from a range of backgrounds. The project’s aims were to:

Observe and analyse, on a daily basis during a two-year teaching programme, children under the age of 5 in order to:

  • Identify developments in each child’s thinking
  • Describe the development of symbolic representation from early motor and perceptual behaviours
  • Identify curriculum content assimilated to developing forms of thought (page 3)

Very wide ranging aims indeed. So how has the author, Chris Athey, approached this in the book? She has divided it into 3 parts: Events influencing the Project; the Findings of the Project and Later Patterns of Thought.

Part 1 is an overview of the political background and government initiatives, with an illuminating Chapter 4 about constructivist pedagogy, Piaget and how this fits with current theories. And here we find the motivation for the Project and the book:
Constructivists are interested in the processes by which children construct their own knowledge (page 43) and there is a great difference between ‘know-how’ and consciousness of ‘know-why’ (page 44).

Part 2 is a highly detailed breakdown of the observations, drawings, actions and dialogue that were observed during the Project. It is prefaced by the observation that in previous research it was content which was more important than form. So Eng’s observation of “jagged teeth” and “stairs” seem to show no correspondence in content – but when the zig-zag form is considered they are a common representation. The Project concentrated on form, which includes topological space, space notion and representation. As children develop they begin to develop perception (a face must include a mouth before it will elicit a smile, even at 5 months). Children must then use this perception to create their representations in drawings and 3D models.

Using these representations, Athey discusses 5 graphic schema in detail:
Lines; Core and Radial; Open and Closed Arcs; Zig Zags and Angles and Quadrilaterals. This also includes discussion on how the same drawing can be re-interpreted i.e. how Eng interpreted the jagged teeth as “aggressive” but the Project team interpreted this as open triangles (zig-zags schema). Each schema is discussed in detail with plenty of examples of how they may progress as the child matures. The most practical part of this is the subsequent analysis of the representations, with the details of form as schemas start to be combined and perfected.

This part of the book concludes with chapter 6 From Action to Thought. This chapter demonstrates how schemas become co-ordinated with each other and develop into systems of thought (page 153). Seven action schema have been considered in great detail, namely: dynamic vertical schema; dynamic back and forth; circular direction and rotation; going over, under or on top of; going round a boundary; enveloping and containing; going through a boundary.

Each has been sub-divided and considered with respect to Motor level (physical action); Symbolic Representation Level (drawing, models); Functional Dependency Relationship (how the schema is used during play, dialogue, early thought); Thought Level (demonstration, usually through dialogue, of how schemas have been used to create original thoughts) and Discussion (explanation of how children have moved through each area resulting in thought). Finally Thought as internalised action is discussed.

This was a truly fascinating chapter as it draws together all the theory and clearly demonstrates how understanding and building on children’s schema improves their cognitive functioning.

Part 3 of the book takes us even further on the children’s journey, demonstrating how (and examples of which) schema impact on speech, writing and complex concepts, in primary education. For example, levers and pulleys need comprehension of linear movement (dynamic vertical), rotation and going over.

The final chapter explores parental participation and extended experience. This details the learning journey that the parents also undertook during the Project. It is hoped here that this “great source of untapped ability and energy” is used to its full potential in the future. Personally I would have liked some more specific examples of the ways parents were involved and benefited from being a part of this Project, as this could help practitioners to engage more confidently.

Extending Thought in Young Children is a detailed analysis of a complex and long running project. Consequently the book contains plenty of technical language. It is this detail which makes it an excellent reference book. But it does make it a book to be read at several sittings.

There were loads of moments where, as I read a description of a child’s behaviour, the light bulb came on and previously unrelated behaviour suddenly came into focus. I recognised the form of many drawings, plenty examples of which have been illustrated throughout the book. One of the bitter-sweet comparisons is two sets of “draw-a-man” illustrations, one by Project children and one by children matched for age, sex, ethnic background and neighbourhood. The Project children perform significantly better. I couldn’t help feeling a little sad that not all children could benefit from being a part of the Froebel Project.

Finally, has this book changed the way I view children’s drawings, actions, dialogues, behaviour and thought processes? Absolutely. Forever.

 

It is still available from Amazon

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Involving Parents in their Children’s Learning 2nd Ed by Margy Whalley

“This book is just one of the outcomes of a five-year research and development project at the Pen Green Centre for under fives and their families”. So starts this book and you know it is going to be full of interesting findings. Of course, it helps that Margy Whalley, who has been involved in education for 34 years, around the world, has been leading and directing the research programme.

The 12 chapters are each written by different authors, all of whom were involved in some way with the project at Pen Green, Corby called Parents’ Involvement in Their Children’s Learning (PICL). The authors range from teachers, social workers to researchers and education consultants.

The book starts with a background chapter about Pen Green and its endeavours. In the next chapter, ‘developing evidence based practice’, Margy Whalley discusses the way the project has developed. It contains some essential insights for anyone setting up research projects where children are being observed and details the additional benefits for the adults involved.

In ‘getting to know the families’ Colette Tait discusses how knowing the family situation is vital when planning meetings. From the shift patterns that parents work to the wording on the advertising flyers (mums prefer to “have a chat and a coffee” whilst dads prefer “coming to this meeting will make a difference to your child”).  It highlighted for me that you have to consider all the various home situations if you are going to engage parents successfully. Cath Arnold continues with this theme in further practical ways such setting up the room, which topics to cover, which theorists to draw on.

Chapter 5, ‘parents and staff as co-educators – ‘parents’ means fathers too’, by Margy Whalley and Trevor Chandler is inspirational. How many times have we heard “dads just don’t want to know”? This chapter shows not only how to involve fathers effectively but also the fantastic benefits to the child, father and other significant adults. This is essential reading for every setting and is the most comprehensive writing I’ve come across on the subject.

Cath Arnold writes an emotionally moving chapter about parents who find the services ‘Hard to Reach’, which, in the cases highlighted, means that the parents had had very negative school experiences themselves. This was stopping them getting involved with the centre’s activities – Kate says “I’m not the type – Pen Greeny”. So the two mums were interviewed and allowed to explain their own experiences, feelings and the consequences. In this way the barriers, including personal feelings and attitudes to other people, were identified so they could be overcome. Annette Cummings, in the next chapter, goes on to discuss the impact on parents’ lives, with some great case studies in the parents’ own words.

In chapter 8 we meet the Pen Green Loop, which is a feedback loop with the child in the centre, surrounded by parents and professionals and the Possible Lines of Development (PLOD) wheel. I particularly liked the PLOD wheel, as it has at the centre a small group of children, all of whom enjoy similar schemas. I often hear “how can we possibly plan for 40 different children? We can’t have 40 carpet areas!”. This is how it is done. First identify the children’s schema and then transpose this onto the centre of the wheel. There are 6 ‘spokes’, representing the 6 areas of learning, where activities and ideas can be mapped out for the group of children with similar or overlapping schema. Genius!

Colette Tait discusses the Growing Together groups which are for the birth to 3 age groups, discussing how it evolved out of the PICL group. The value of video taping the parent child interactions and then reviewing these is emphasised.

In ‘deepening the dialogue with parents’ Eddie McKinnon shares with us some in depth conversations with parents about their children, and how, as a result of being involved with the project this has made parents more reflective in their own practice.

But what happens to the family groups when the children start school? Cath Arnold presents 3 case studies, following the parents through Pen Green and then into Primary school, with very positive results.

Finally we have Kate Hayward, a primary school teacher, who was concerned with her own interactions with parents at school. She followed the good practice demonstrated at Pen Green and reports how she reinvents the traditional ‘home-school book’ model when communicating with parents. This chapter ends with a glowing recommendation from the headteacher.

This book is an excellent reference book, steeped in thorough research and viewed through many lenses. The concepts are explained clearly and examples are enlightening. Each chapter is written so it can be read independently, which means an amount of repetition when reading the whole book. However, I found the reinforcement of schemas, involvement levels etc reasonably useful. I was asked a while ago “why do we listen to these ‘theorists’ about good practice?”, to which I answered that they had done research and then tested their theories, proving that it was good practice. I think this book demonstrates this point and beyond.

 

It is available from Amazon

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