Schematic Outdoor Learning

Picture the scene, a child is constantly filling a pram/wheelbarrow/buggy/bag with your lovely loose parts and dumping them all over the room. Another child is constantly hiding your wooden numbers in bags, another is using wool to tie two pieces of furniture together, another is pulling tissues out of a box while their friend is launching toys across the room, sound familiar? These are not children who are not engaged, they are in fact working through their schema.

Schemas are repeated patterns of behaviour to allow a child to understand a concept they are interested in. Each time they repeat a behaviour they might modify it slightly to make new connections in their brains. Adults have schemas too, they are just more hidden and usually one dominant schema remains. Think about your kitchen cupboards; do the labels face the front? Are they stacked in categories? Do you sleep wrapped up? Do you like rollercoasters? Do you like to take things apart? Are the things on your desk always in the same position? You'll be amazed at how heavily schemas feature in your life.

I was horrified to discover that two recent apprentices at my setting didn't cover schemas in their Early Years Educator course, for me, schemas are the bedrock of my continuous provision. I am constantly trying to support a child to work through their schema so that I can understand their approach to learning.

Recently I have discovered how to do this in a Forest School environment. I plan my Forest School sessions to support schematic play but I didn't feel that this was enough for my very young children. In consultation with parents, I devised Schematic Outdoor Learning sessions to focus on various schemas each week.

Firstly I had to pick apart the schemas that the children were exhibiting throughout their observations. This page will take you through 9 different schemas, what to observe for and what children are learning and exploring as they work through them. Become confident in what to look out for and then you can start supporting them.

Sample plans:

  • Painting with mud (with 6 two year olds who had been observed to be working through transforming and enclosing schemas). The children used a spade to put mud into a bucket, mixed it with water using their hands and used sticks and paintbrushes to paint onto trees.

  • Planting seeds (Transforming and enveloping schemas). The children dug a hole and planted wild flower seeds near the forest.

  • Rolling down hills (Trajectory and rotation schema) The children ran and then rolled down grass hills.

  • Wheelbarrows (Transporting and rotation schema) I encouraged the children to find me something big/small/green/soft/yellow/crunchy/smelly to put in their wheelbarrow.

  • Making wands (Enclosing, positioning and connecting schemas) The children wrapped sticks in wool and ribbon to make wands.


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