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