Schema Theory in the Toddler Studio

As we have been working to understand the meaning of the children’s interests, Haley and I have been looking at and discussing a variety of theories and resources, both new, and old.

Schema Theory has been one of the resources we have been considering, as it has helped us  go deeper in understanding the children’s actions. This theory has given us a new lens in which to view and understand the children’s learning. It has also given us a framework to understand the deeper meaning of our observations of the children. We know that children are always working to understand and place value on the world they live in, and thus, theories give us insight into what their actions might represent.

A schema is a thread of thought that is demonstrated by repeated actions and patterns in children’s play. These repeated actions suggest that children’s play is a reflection of deeper, internal and specifically directed thoughts. When Children are exploring their schemas they are building understandings of abstract ideas, patterns, and concepts.

The most prevalent concepts we have seen the children working to understand are transformation and transportation. While this tends to be one of the more obvious areas of exploration, there are many other schemas the children have been exploring as they work to grasp abstract ideas. Some of the additional concepts we have seen the children test out relate to enclosing and enveloping, rotation and circulation, and trajectory.

We wanted to share what the children do on a regular basis to demonstrate an interest in these ideas, and encourage you to study the documentation we’ve collected with a similar perspective in mind.

Transportation: Most days in the toddler studio, the strollers, trucks, baskets, and anything else that can hold materials get filled up with everything from rocks to babies! Haley and I have spent time observing and wondering about the children’s urge to transport. As the children work to gain a solid understanding of transportation, they repeat the action of transporting materials through different means; through this repetition, they build a schema for transportation.

Transformation: Transformation is both a concrete and abstract concept. Research tells us, as children have time working to understand transformation in the concrete, physical sense, they are also understanding it better in the abstract sense. In the toddler studio, the children pour sand in water and water in sand. They comment as the sand and water turn from “sticky” to “mucky water.” Haley discussed the children’s investigation with this concept in the blog last week, as it is something we observe regularly and have begun to research more in-depth.

It often happens that children are drawn to developing and understanding certain schemas, however, they also explore additional concepts. For example, we have observed their interest in…

Trajectory: How things fly. Children explore throwing balls and jumping in different ways to formulate a schema for trajectory. In the Toddler Studio, children will experiment with different ways to jump off the stumps. This movement gives them information about how their body moves through space or their own trajectory.

Rotation and Circulation: How things roll and spin. Children exploring this idea experiment with how balls or objects with wheels turn. We have noticed a lot of rolling balls and trucks down different ramps while the children investigate this concept.

Enclosing and Enveloping: How areas are defined. Children explore covering and wrapping themselves up, as well as building enclosures for objects. In the Toddler Studio, the children research this idea while playing with scarfs.

The children in the Toddler Studio are working through some complex and very important concepts! We hope that theories, like this one, and research continue guiding us in understanding the children’s investigation on a deeper level. Haley and I are excited to see how explorations of these schemas develop and present new questions for us and the children! We hope that, through research, we can support and encourage the children on this journey just as much as they inspire us with their investigations!


Miss Margaret