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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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Workshop workshop.

Yesterday a subconscious urge struck me and I signed up for the "How to run a workshop" Playcentre workshop on November 19th; now I'm trying to work out why I did that.

Is it about schemas?

In 2004 we at Wilton Playcentre developed a 2-3 hour Schema Workshop as part of its Centre of Innovation research contract with the Ministry of Education and I've enjoyed giving that to Playcentre and other Early Childhood Education people about half a dozen times.

While we were working on that schema workshop I made a chart showing schemas in areas of play*. My chart is popular with people who find it immediately accessible and useful, but I suspect it would be more accessible, more useful, and therefore more popular, if it had some sort of brief introduction with it. Also, when I wrote it in 2004 I put on it everything I knew about schema learning theory at the time but I've learnt some more since.

So a few months ago I started working on my personal introduction to schemas because I'd like there to be something really short that I can give to people who ask me about schemas that they can use in the meantime, while they work out whether they're interested enough in schema learning theory to do any more reading about it. It started as a half-hour workshop that can be part of another meeting and I've given at a SPACE group and a session meeting (a meeting where a whole playcentre can get together to talk about the kids). My introduction didn't stay down at the half-hour length and so it could do with some work yet, and a Workshop workshop might well show me the trick of concentrating and shortening it.

* Schemas in Areas of Play.pdf
Harper, S. (2004) Playcentre Journal 121: pp 18-19
Also in Meade, A. and Cubey, P. (2008) Thinking Children: Learning about schemas pp 27-29

Or is it about something else?

You see, schemas are quite an interesting thing to know about, but I think I'm wanting to write about them in order for what I know about them to end up as a pamphlet so I don't have to be there to introduce them myself: A Letter of Introduction to Schemas perhaps.

What I'd like to stand up on my hind legs and lecture you about right now is Te Whāriki's belonging and well-being, flow, people's passions (of which schemas are a subset) and how desperately they matter when people interact.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Flow Chart

Notes in case you can't read the picture (I plan to make a better one, but this is the general idea).

Flow Chart
Susan Harper 27.6.2008

Are you having fun yet?

Yay! Challenge, Competence and Concentration balanced.

Oh. Why?

No focus.
Okay; so... try changing the environment and your mind; focus.

Bored. This is too easy.
Concentrate. Take care. Think of something to add or improve.

Too hard. Failure looms.
Choose an intermediate goal; a part-way success criteria.
Are you having fun yet?

Thank you Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Gobbets of thought all over the carpentry table.

I've been thinking again, so here are some notes that might remind me of some sparks I'd seen when next I get to put prefrontal cortex to grindstone.

1. Children use their schemas when processing emotional learning as well. Threads of thinking fitted into space, time, and relationships of all sorts.

2. What's fun about playing?
Free play ECE and supporting schema learning gives children who've got into a flow state the chance to stay in it, and more opportunities to keep on getting into flow.

3. Serenity for the Godless: a user's guide to practical positive psychology.
Flow isn't the only good thing and flow-ish states are really quite good. People who're good at getting into flow and flow-ish states are pretty happy people.

4. Make-believe in Art, Religion, and Sport.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Flow and some "clear and testable predictions related to its elicitation and control"

This article about Flow answers some of my questions and rings true on some of my intuitions.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Grokking Csíkszentmihályi's flow.

Just before Christmas I said
At the moment, what I love best about Ultimate is that it can occupy my whole being; a lot of the time that I am on the field I am not multi-tasking at all, I am not even directing my thinking. My self is wholly present in the moment, senses and understandings united; intuiting and acting in a dynamic and embodied way. To be so concentrated is utterly luxurious, mystical and animal, it is how I am when I am pushing a baby out, when I orgasm, and the more of the game I can do it for the better I play.
I didn't have a word for that state then but reading a draft of my friend Nikolien van Wijk's forthcoming book Getting Started With Schemas I read that Csíkszentmihályi's flow, a combination of intense concentration and deep enjoyment, is a symptom that a child is engaged upon their schemas.

Wikipedia says

Csíkszentmihályi identifies the following as accompanying an experience of flow:

  1. Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one's skill set and abilities).
  2. Concentrating and focusing, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
  3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.
  4. Distorted sense of time, one's subjective experience of time is altered.
  5. Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
  6. Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
  7. A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
  8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
  9. People become absorbed in their activity, and focus of awareness is narrowed down to the activity itself, action awareness merging (Csíkszentmihályi, 1975. p.72).

Not all are needed for flow to be experienced.

I think Csíkszentmihályi's flow is my favourite thing about my favourite things.

I love watching the disc fly; a predator's wordless understanding of physics and aerodynamics bringing me to exactly the right spot to snatch it out of the air.

I love to paint, to draw, to give a blank page a resemblance. My focus is wholly within the moment of the mark-making. The changing shape of the lines or texture of the paint, the speed at which I move my hands, my being is in these things.

I love to converse, to let the ideas wander, to listen and make connections, to be oblivious to what people might think of me and to concentrate wholly on what they think. Suddenly an hour's gone by, or maybe a night. I also love to write; in order to express myself with clarity, power, or a frivolous enjoyment of the pitter patter of little words passing, I let myself melt into my sentences.

Flow feels very good, and seeking it out is incredibly motivating.

Flow feels like a brain state. I wonder what we know about brain chemistry during learning, reading, problem solving, art, sport, drama, music, dance, trance, religious ecstasy, addiction, computer games, sex, eating, peeing, and breast-feeding.

Flow feels really really good but one can get flow by doing bad things. I remember flow as a child; calmly and unkindly goading my little sister, enjoying the challenge of staying only just inside her temper's limit so she didn't actually break into violence but talking rings around her 19 months and 23 days less sophisticated positions, and being willing to pay the price of her wrath when I wasn't competent enough to talk her back down again.

I'm sure downers are psychologically addictive by way of flow. Downers (e.g. alcohol, marijuana, lack of sleep) cut the number of neural connections made per second, this makes everything harder to do except narrowing of focus. Downers make it easier to focus (one isn't having so many thoughts at once) and change the balance of competence and challenge so that things usually done with ease become candidates for flow (ever see a stoned person butter a piece of bread).

I wonder whether uppers are also psychologically addictive by way of flow. Uppers (e.g. caffiene, nicotine, hot spices) make the brain make more neural connections per second, it's harder to focus but possible and then a torrent of thinking is pouring around the course set for it.

Certainly the high I've got from computer games is flow. That balance of competence and challenge, that single focus to the point of noticing that it's getting light again outside, that my hands are really cold and that in order to get to the toilet I have to walk bent over around my poor bladder, that's flow. Other people have even studied this idea already, but most of the papers I found about flow's role in cyber addiction by googling addiction and flow experience are not easily available for reading.

Even parts of the flow experience are quite hard to let go of once one is experiencing them. The focus of trying to grab a hair with tweezers, the un-self-consciousness of reading dull books and zoning out in front of the T.V. and of course, that favourite feeling of we parents: control.

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