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Supporting physical development in early childhood
Supporting physical development in early childhood

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9 Repetitive actions and schema

Movement and learning in young children cannot be discussed without acknowledging the importance of schema in their holistic development.

Schema can be defined as a ‘framework that places concepts, objects, or experiences into categories’ (Levine and Munsch, 2011, p. 233). As children make sense of their world, including new concepts, objects and experiences, they develop schema and act out their understanding through their movements.

For instance, May (2011) gives the example of a child who is exploring the concept of circles – they spend time making circular movements, such as stirring a toy pan, painting round shapes or dancing until they are dizzy (p.21).

Cathy Nutbrown, a professor of Early Childhood at Sheffield University, has worked with the BBC to create a TV programme for young children that acknowledges and incorporates their learning and developmental need for schema. Read about it and watch this short accompanying video [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (Use Ctrl + click on the link to open in a new window.)

Activity 6

Read the case study below and then consider any schema you have noticed developing in the children you care for.

Case study: Dylan

Paul is worried that his two-year-old son, Dylan, has suddenly begun to throw things. He came home from nursery upset because he was told off for throwing bricks. Paul is concerned he will get a reputation as a ‘naughty’ boy. One of the other dads suggests that Dylan may have a trajectory schema (i.e. he may be exploring ideas around movement and direction).

Paul does some research on the internet about how best to help his son explore these concepts in a safe way. He also prints off some resources to take into the nursery; one of the practitioners sets up some outdoor games such as throwing beanbags in to buckets.

As you care for young children, have you noticed any schema developing? Sometimes they can be problematic as Paul and the nursery found out! Think about young children you work with or care for and some of their movement behaviours that could be schema.

 How could you best support them?

If you would like to find out more about schema, you can read Schemas from the Pen Green Centre for children and their families. (Use Ctrl + click on the link to open in a new window.)

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