Thursday, April 02, 2009

Schema intro for SPACE babies.

Last year I started to work on a half-hour introduction to schemas. Here's one specifically for SPACE babies

Susan Harper's schema intro for SPACE babies.

Babies have passionate interests, they work very hard to learn as much as they can as fast as possible. Babies find this world fascinating and their adults find babies fascinating. When older humans work out what babies are interested in we empower them, encourage their interests, reinforce their persistence and facilitate their learning. Schemas are a useful way of thinking about what babies (and children) are into.

A schema is a pattern that a child loves to repeat in their playan exploration of an abstract notion.

Flow: Do you remember a time when you were so into what you were doing that you didn't notice the irrelevant extras around you, you disappeared and there was just the doing of the activity? You were in "the zone” or “a flow state”. Flow is something worth paying a bit of respectful attention to; there's evidence that getting into flow on a regular basis promotes mental wellness and flow is a great motivation for and indicator of learning (and it's my favourite thing about all my favourite things). Babies and children look like flow is how they feel when they do things they love.

Question: "Is there something your child loves doing over and over again?"

We can tell what our children love doing partly because they do it over and over again, persisting in the face of difficulties (including clashes with adults' expectations and desires). It is very likely that something a child loves doing over and over is schema-related.

Loves doing over and over: A baby may love dropping things, over and over again, persisting with this tricky feat of coordination in the face of adults' expectations of appropriate things to do with one's food. A baby who drops things repeatedly is developing understanding of many things about the world including

  • gravity,

  • object permanence (i.e. that things don't just disappear),

  • how to let go,

  • motion,

  • what happens to them when different sorts of things hit the ground,

  • how visual stimuli change as items change position, and

  • that they can rely on people to help them by picking things up and giving them back.

These new understandings lead to further schema-investigations as the baby's understanding of the world deepens: for example, a baby who loves learning about motion may keep working on a trajectory schema, a baby who loves learning about object permanence may keep working on hiding and other investigations of an enveloping schema, a baby who loves learning about what happens to different things when they hit the ground may keep working on a transforming schema. If we continue to think about our baby who loves to drop things over and over again, and look out for other things our baby loves to do repeatedly, we may well work out what our baby is into on a schema level.

There are examples of some more schemas and lots of behaviours on the "Schemas in Areas of Play" chart, some of which may ring a bell.

Interacting with children and their schemas:

Striking characteristics of schemas:

  • Schemas repeat. If a child is working on a schema it will be noticeable as it crops up again and again, all over the place.

  • While working on schemas children often seem fascinated; they concentrate, are deeply engaged and very persistent. Schemas are sources of much learning and development in children.

  • The repetition, fascination, concentration, engagement and persistence typical of children working on schemas is often confusing and frustrating for adults. Schemas can seem compulsive and perplexing.

Repetition, development... frustrating:"She has never found being left easy and she started school the other day. Since then Hazel's been doing a lot of disconnecting. She's been cutting up her bedding, her dad's sock, her teddy's fur and her sister's bed base. She's been drawing smiles on pieces of paper and cutting them out for us as presents. She's been picking things apart, dismembering dolls, crumbling food, and pulling things to pieces. I'm not sure what the content of her stories is, I'm rather worn out with dealing with the physical disconnections. I am intrigued that it's a disconnecting schema she's pursuing as she disconnects from us in order to connect to school." Harper (2007)

We were lucky that we knew about schemas and so sock and bed cutting didn't seem like inexplicable caprice or sheer malice. We still had to deal with the bad consequences but we were able to do so with faith that they weren't caused by madness, meanness, nor were they aimed at us. Also, knowing that Hazel was likely to keep disconnecting meant that I knew to get out a lot of appropriate things to disconnect. I used my own chart for ideas.

Using the “Schemas in Areas of Play” chart:

  1. Notice a child's repeated behaviour.

  2. Recognise a schema (or two) they might be pursuing.

  3. Respond to their schemas using Te Whāriki, excitement and understanding.

If, as well as a schema-fascination, you also recognise a lovely piece of learning going on you might

  • help the child to consolidate or extend their thinking within their schema,

  • use words relevant to their schema,

  • help them make friends with you, or other children who are interested in that schema.

If, as well as a schema-fascination, you also recognise a problematic behaviour, then redirection within the row of the schema is often taken surprisingly well.

Some caveats for the emptors: Schemas are just one way of thinking and talking about children, there are lots of others, use whatever works for you and the child at hand. Dividing schemas into kinds such as trajectory, enveloping and transforming is useful for adults but schema learning theory is descriptive rather than prescriptive and your children may vary. Not all children have schemas that are easy to recognise and work with and the schemas on the chart are not the only schemas by a long way. You can think about and facilitate other things children love to do over and over again in the same way.


Susan Harper
April 2009

Csíkszentmihályi, Mihály (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper and Row.

Cubey, Pam (2007) "Schemas and Learning Stories: the two are compatible and complementary" pp 20-22 Playcentre Journal. Issue 128: Autumn 2007.

Cubey, Pam (2007) "The fascination of schemas: a Playcentre researcher's story" pp 23-25 Playcentre Journal. Issue 128: Autumn 2007.

Harper, Susan (2004). "Schemas in Areas of Play." Playcentre Journal. Issue 121: Spring 2004. (also available in Thinking Children and Getting Started With Schemas).

Harper, Susan (2007) "Transitioning to school with schemas" p 15, Playcentre Journal. Issue 128: Autumn 2007.

Meade, Anne and Cubey, Pam (2008) Thinking Children: Learning about schemas. [2nd ed]. New Zealand Council for Educational Research.

Ministry of Education (1996) Te Whāriki: He Whāriki mātuaranga mo ngā mokopuna o Aotearoa: Early childhood curriculum. Learning Media.

van Wijk, Nikolien (2008) Getting Started With Schemas: Revealing the wonder-full world of children's play. New Zealand Playcentre Federation.


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Blogger Karen said...

Is aggression a schema or just bad behaviour? Either way I clearly am not dealing with it effectively right now

5:37 PM  
Blogger Susan Harper said...

Aggression's not a schema. It's usually an expression of a negative emotion that happens to impact on someone else, quite likely the person whose own behaviour was the cause of the negative emotion.

Good books: Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, and Please Don't Sit on the Kids by Clare Cherry.

I'm writing some more about this and it may well make it to a blog post in a bit.

2:54 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

I think the person who is causing the aggression is the one who doesn't live with him, since the behaviour tends to diminish with elapsed time post-contact... butr I could be wrong... a lot of it is attempting to hit me, for things like giving him the weetbix he asked for, when really he wanted cornflakes?! Craaaaaazy-making!

10:18 PM  
Blogger Susan Harper said...

Plausibly, as quite often post hoc ergo propter hoc.

A person, a relationship, and/or the end of each contact with a special person could be the cause of the grief ("grief" covers anger, sadness, disappointment, frustration... and/or some other negative emotions).

And/or, but quite logically distinct, it is possible that the choice of aggression to express negative emotion is modelled by a particular person.

Whether having this dry analysis is of any use I doubt.

But for this:

* Whatever the cause, he probably needs to express his grief.

* You might be able to get him to do so some other way. We've found useful making art, making music, hurling clods at tarmac while yelling and, hardest but maybe best, talking.


* If he'll talk you'll need to do "active" listening.

Active Listening - the most important bits when listening to kids

* Before

Focus your attention on the talker.

Stop everything else.

Avoid distractions.

Acknowledge your own emotional state (whatever it is) and suspend it.

Set aside your prejudices and your opinions.

You are present to learn what the speaker has to say, not the other way around.

* Actively listen.

Be other-directed; focus on the person communicating.

Follow and understand the speaker as if you were walking in their shoes.

Listen with your ears but also with your eyes and other senses.

Be aware: non-verbally acknowledge points in the speech.

Let any ranting, raving or rambling run its course.

Don't agree or disagree, do encourage the train of thought.

Actively (concisely) respond to questions and directions.

Use your body position (e.g. lean forward) and attention to encourage the speaker and signal your interest

* Afterwards:

Don't tell your side (except for saying "I love you" if it's true).

Do not discuss or solve problems raised.

Give the speaker time and space
for rest after talking.

Express appreciation for the sharing to build trust and encourage dialogue. "Thank you."

12:13 AM  

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