ZPDF The Zone of Proximal Developmental Flow  The ZPDF diagram provides a representation of both the child’s and the adult’s creative cognitive process and of their interaction.  This point of interaction has been identified in research as ‘Sustained Shared Thinking’ (SST) and it has been associated with the most effective early childhood pedagogic practice.  SST represents a genuine meeting of minds, that is achieved whenever the practitioner has identified, and is able to engage directly with, the particular operations (schemes) and figurative (schema) knowledge that the child is applying in their play.

The child’s free-flow play is represented in the central cycle, as an interaction between the child’s cognitive schemes and schema.  This is what van Oers (1999) described as a process that Vygotsky understood as ‘progressive continuous re-contextualisation’.  Piaget called it ‘reflexive abstraction’, and described how the child’s established schemes support the ‘assimilation’ and accomodation of new schema.  The activity space contained by the cycle is referred to as the Zone of Proximal Developmental Flow (ZPDF) because it is analogous to that provided through adult scaffolding in Vygotsky’s (1962) zone of proximal development (ZPD), except that in this case it is the child’s own recall of previously observed (or formally introduced) cognitive schemes and schema that are being applied in scaffolding their play (there is no immediate adult involved in providing their scaffolding).  ‘Flow’ was first identified as a quality of play associated with enhanced periods of learning and creativity by Csikszentmihalyi’s (1979).  Bruce (1991) and Laevers’ (1993) applied the phrase ‘Free Flow Play’, and defined it in terms of the complete immersion, involvement and the sense of fulfilment that children gained from it.

Learning and development in free-flow play may therefore be considered ‘seeded’ by the child’s prior learning of a scheme or schema.  This may have occurred through the child’s observation and imitation of others ,or through direct instruction, but it is important to recognise that the child’s learning will remain incomplete if they are not provided with the opportunity to play with their new ideas and capabilities, to identify the strengths and limitations of the schemes and schemas, and to own them for themselves.  This is what we mean when we say that learning in SchemaPlay is essentially a creative and child centred process. ‘Free Flow Play’ is an integrating mechanism, which brings together what the child has previously learn, knows, feels and understands (Tina Bruce, 1997).  More about all of this can be found in the SchemaPlay booklet:  Putting the Schema back into Schema Theory and Practice: An Introduction to SchemaPlay

Pdf Copies for Download

Siraj-Blatchford, J., and Brock, L. (2016) Putting the Schema back into Schema Theory and Practice: An Introduction to SchemaPlay, SchemaPlay Publications

This booklet has been written for anyone who is interested in developing a better understanding of how we can ‘seed’ free-flow play to support every child’s learning and development.  We introduce our Zone of Proximal Development Flow (ZPDF) model and provide an explanation for how play really works! ISBN 978 0 9957626 0 2


Siraj-Blatchford, J., and Brock, L. (2017) Education for Sustainable Citizenship in Early Childhood, SchemaPlay Publications

The text presents sustainable citizenship as a life-long emergent capability. It distances itself from those who promote dystopian images of the future that may result from either toxic childhoods, or environmental and climatic catastrophes. An optimistic and celebratory approach is provided that emphasises the importance of Sustainable Citizens accepting responsibility for, and taking pride in, their day to day sustainable actions. ISBN 978 0 9957626 1 9


The Environmental Rating Scale for Sustainable Development in Early Childhood (ERS-SDEC)

The ERS-SDEC may be applied by individual or groups of practitioners to audit their education for sustainable development curriculum. It is free to download below and has been developed to help practitioners and preschool centre mangers in setting ESD curriculum development priorities. Where the scale is used by a single practitioner within their own setting, the scale can be applied to support curriculum development through identifying priorities, setting targets and managing change without difficulties. But wherever any form of comparison is involved between teaching and learning contexts or settings:

  • training will be required to develop a shared understanding the use and the role of the scale;
  • training will also be required to ensure common understandings of the quality criteria (definitions and cultural variations) and in;
  • many cases a ‘critical friend’ should also be involved to provide support and validation (this may be an local authority adviser or an academic who has applied the instrument in other contexts.

SchemaPlay offers training for trainers in the use of the scale and may be able to put you in contact with a local provider: Contact:

As in other early childhood environmental rating scales, the ERS-SDEC identifies both curriculum and pedagogic provisions and it requires the evaluator to make their own observations. Our intention has been to develop the instrument as a both a research tool, and also as a self-assessment tool for practitioners. Where it is applied by an outside researcher they will be required to ask practitioners for information about their practices, and to seek evidence that confirms these practices. The ERS-SDEC applies the same rating procedures and may be applied conveniently alongside more elaborate and comprehensive quality rating scales such as the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale – Revised (ECERS-R) (Harms, Clifford and Cryer, 1998) or the English Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale – Extension (ECERS-E) (Sylva, Siraj-Blatchford, & Taggart, 2003). But in any comparative or collaborative research context there will always be a need to ensure inter-rater reliability and it is important that users recognise the need for external or collective moderation and/or validation. If you are intending to use the instrument for comparative research purposed please let us know and we will be able to provide further advise or support. Contact:
Details of the international trials carried out in development of the instrument may be found at:
Siraj-Blatchford, J., Park, E., and Mogharreban, C. (Eds.) (2016) International Research on Education for Sustainable Development in Early Childhood, Springer International Publishing

ERS-SDEC Downloads

Preschool Outdoor Environment Measurement Scale (POEMS)

Available for order online here

Designed as a self-study, this US scale is intended to raise the quality of the preschool outdoor environment and promote their use in teaching, research, and practice. It includes a user guide, the scale and a scoring protocol, reliability and validity information, and a technical assistance manual for program improvement and planning. The scale addresses environments for children age 3-5 years. (Additional Scoring Protocols sold separately.)

Supporting Schemes with Picture Story Books

This page provides ten collections of books that have been put together to support children’s schematic learning. When we identify the particular schemes that feature in a children’s free flow play, it provides us with an opportunity to build upon what the child knows and what they can do.

For SchemaPlay publications click here.

Picture Story Books to support Early Childhood Education for Sustainable Citizenship will be found here.

Peters Books provide a 30% discount on all titles purchased by SchemaPlay settings: Simply apply the discount code SCHEMA30 at the checkout. Recommended titles below:

ConnectingContainingCountingEnclosing and
RotatingSequencingSorting and GroupingTrajectoryTransporting

Books for Early Childhood Education for Sustainable Citizenship

This page provides a collection of Picture Story Books that have been put together to support the OMEP-UK Early Childhood Education for Sustainable Citizenship Award.
For more information about the OMEP-UK ESC Award click here.
For SchemaPlay publications click here.
SchemaPlay training opportunities are listed here.
Peters Books provide a 30% discount on all titles purchased by SchemaPlay settings: Simply apply the discount code SCHEMA30 at the checkout. Recommended titles below:


Education for Sustainable Citizenship

The OMEP-UK Education for Sustainable Citizenship Award was launched on May 1st 2019.  SchemaPlay originally created the ESC Award in partnership with preschool settings, children their families in Kent, and with the Kent County Council Early Years and Child Care Service who launched their own parallel project across the Kent local authority from January 2018.  The OMEP ESC Award provides the foundations for learning sustainable citizenship in support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  The Award has been developed to support the English Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), the English Key Stage 1 National Curriculum requirements and Guidance for Citizenship Education in schools (DfE, 2015).  The resources include a package to support early childhood settings that includes:

  • An ESC audit tool to support settings identify curriculum development objectives.
  • 18 x ESC Activity Guides for use in the classroom.
  • ‘Passports’ that record each child’s progress in their ESC and provides them with discounted entry to out of school ESC related centres such as wildlife parks.
  • 15 x ‘i-Can’ booklets that provide suggested activities for parents and carers to support the child at home.

SchemaPlay offers training for trainers in support of the award and has developed associated training materials for curriculum support mentors to apply in local settings. There is a SchemaPlay book Early Childhood Education for Sustainable Citizenship providing support for the training with background explanations and many illustrations of excellent practice.  SchemaPlay also provide Early Years Foundations Stage (EYFS) Guidance styled on the British Association for Early Childhood Education (BAECE) ‘Development Matters’ publication.  For more information please contact

Further information related to the ESD award provided for settings in the Kent LEA are available from: