Schemes, Play & Outcomes

SchemaPlay promotes meaningful learning through free-flow play.

Ausobel in the 1970’s said “the most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows. Ascertain this and teach him/her accordingly.”

Pouring in quantities of subject knowledge is not the role of any effective educator. Children are not, as John Holt explains, empty vessels waiting to be filled. We need to ascertain children’s anchors to learning – what can they do now? And, what do they know now? What are they asking questions about? We need to open up a breadth of curriculum for them to explore from these anchors, fostering their self-belief and a joy of learning.

It is children’s early play experiences – the play that motivates them, that children immerse themselves in and feel satisfied by that is the best preparation for learning. But, we do need early childhood educators with strong pedagogical knowledge to identify children’s capabilities in their play – to extend their lines of enquiry, and support their competencies/build upon what children can do. For example, perhaps capacity is being explored in the sandpit as a child empties a large bucket of sand into two smaller buckets. They may be exploring 2D and 3D shapes when playing with Playdough, or considering shape and space as a child sits inside a box and then fills the box with teddies. A child playing with a car may be finding out about distance. momentum and inertia as she or he watches a car leave a ramp. Every child is unique and every child should have access to quality early years’ education, which fosters a joy of learning and a drive to take on new challenges.

The following provides an early account of a journey shared by an early years’ teacher applying SchemaPlay in practice:

Marcus was fascinated by a ramp and some balls that he noticed in the continuous provision. He spent most of the morning placing one ball at a time at the top of a ramp, letting go of the ball and watching each one roll down the ramp and along the floor. Each time he released a ball, he chased after it – crawling along the floor to where each ball naturally lost momentum and stopped. He was so excited by this play theme – occasionally clapping his hands, seemingly with joy, and he repeated the actions again, and again, and again – in fact the play lasted for over one hour! Later that morning I noticed that he enjoyed pouring water from a jug into a sloping piece of guttering and watching the water travel down the pipe. Then, just prior to home time, he climbed up a small slope in the playground to roll a truck down it! Marcus’s mother was intrigued to hear about his day and explained that at home he had recently started taking the toilet roll from the holder, sitting at the top of the stairs, holding one end of the toilet tissue and watching the remainder of the roll fall down the stairs. She said, “It is like the Andrex puppy adverts! Where has all the toilet roll gone? I was worried he might fall down the stairs so I made a slope in the living room instead and he plays there now.”

Photo by Elina Fairytale on

It seemed to me that Marcus’s play choices were all connected. He was applying a trajectory scheme, but using a range of resources such as balls, water and buckets, and the toilet rolls to explore how things move, perhaps experiencing a perception of distance as he watched the balls roll, and he crawled after them. He might have been exploring distance and cause and effect in his play with the water and toilet roll. I decided the next day to seed not just one ramp and balls, but to seed three ramps – of varying heights, so that a difference in distance might be identifiable. I placed coloured cones alongside where the balls leave the ramp: one red, one yellow and one blue to see if he noticed that some balls would land next to the red cone, and others next to the yellow one etc., depending on which ramp they had been rolled down. I also added rolls of fabrics near the slope in the garden – different length materials – to continue his rolling of toilet paper in the setting but with different lengths of fabric.

Tuning into Marcus’s play through identifying schemes has been amazing. He continues to explore the trajectory scheme, distance and cause and effect, and he particularly enjoys doing this in a range of contexts, including playing skittles and counting how many have been knocked over. He is also tallying now – recording the distance of ball travel and the number of skittles knocked over. He is so happy every day – he enjoys marble painting and exploring distance with wheeled toys in paint, he frequently recalls the story ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’, but now likes laying the story sequencing cards in a line as he recalls the journey. He has recently started to explore height too – making towers and seeing how high he can build them. “We are all having so much fun.” Jacqui Allard, The Barn Nursery.

Over the coming days, we will be exploring SchemaPlay, the distinction between a scheme and a schema, and the Zone of Proximal Development Flow (Siraj-Blatchford & Brock, 2015), as well as sharing more case studies.

Please keep an eye on this page (29/12/21).