Thursday, 15 September 2011

Challenging behaviour?? Could be a schema!!

                         Schemas........what they are and how to nurture them

This is a subject which I am very interested in since doing a course a few years ago. Schemas are patterns of behaviour which children use to make sense of the world around them. Ever seen a child lining up cars in a straight line across the floor??? SCHEMA!!! Got a child who keeps putting things inside boxes or shoes? SCHEMA!!!

Schemas were defined by Piaget and was further developed in the 1970's by Chris Athey. Lets try to explain this as simply as possible! A child will have a particular interest in a certain area. To learn about this area, they will repeat actions over and over again. For example, a baby dropping a bowl over the side of the highchair.......frustrating, yes, but this is part of the learning process and is known as the trajectory or up and down schema. To support this baby's development, you can then show them a yo-yo and how it goes up and down, or paint using a roller going in an up and down motion.

By observing children and discovering behavioural patterns which lead to schemas, you can extend their interest by offering activities which reflect their particular schema. There are many schemas, so here is a list of each one and how you can extend a child's interest.

Transporting (moving objects from one area to another) can be extended by offering items which can be moved, such as prams, cars, trains. Also means of carrying items such as bags, boxes and trolleys. Trips on buses, trains and cars can also be used, as well as maps and creating roads for older children.

Enclosing schema ( making enclosures and borders) can be encouraged by offering bordered paper in art area, creating their own borders, making enclosures for farm animals during small world play.

Trajectory (Interested in up and down or side to side actions) To enhance interest you can play target games, use ribbons during music and movement and explore building towers of different building materials in the construction area.

Enveloping ( covering themselves or toys and objects) can be extended by wrapping presents, writing letters and putting in envelopes, making dens or simply dressing up in layers in the home corner.

Rotation (exploring things that turn) can be explored by playing with cogs and gears, making spinning tops, using rolling pins with play dough or cooking activities and exploring water wheels and wheels on cars in small world play.

Connection and separation (an interest in how things fix together) can be extended by exploring trains and carriages, joining paper together using different materials such as paper clips, explore connecting Lego, duplo and other connecting construction kits.

Positioning (placing themselves or objects in specific places) Make caterpillars, name trains and explore lining up objects to enhance the learning of this schema.

These are a few of the many schema's which were explained by Athey. A good resource for understanding schemas is Threads of thinking by Cathy Nutbrown. I have a good list of books which can be used for particular schemas. If you would like this to be posted, please email me and I will send you a copy as well as posting them on this site.


  1. thankyou for posting this! my eldest was and still is obsessed with circles. he would spin his bib around and watch his car wheels go round for hours. his nursery teacher mentioned he was a schema and i couldnt find any info on what it meant. can u email me any ifo please?

  2. Thanks for your comment. Watch your inbox over the next few days as I have some bits I can email you about rotational schemas. So glad my post has helped you

  3. clair thanks for doing this would be interested in the other info x

  4. As a childminder I have two children who i believe have different schema, this is a new subject to me and one I definitely want to pursue further. Please can you advise literature that may help me..

    Many thanks