Transporting Schema – What It Is & 25 Activities


If you’ve ever wondered why some children spend pretty much all their time moving objects around a room, then it’s this…transporting schemas.

A transporting schema is an interest in carrying an item from one place to another. By doing this children are learning many things, including understanding about journeys, distance, and where things belong.

I have taught children between the ages of 3-5 for the last 12 years, and I would say that in my time it is the transporting schema that I have seen the most regularly out of any of the schemas.

A huge proportion of children have it.

In this post, I’ll describe exactly what a transporting schema is, and then go through the very best ways of supporting this type of repeating pattern in play.

I’ll show you lots of activities, and simple resources you can have to hand that will help children get the best out of this fascination.

Girl using a wheelbarrow as a transporting schema

What Is A Schema?

A schema is a repeated pattern of behavior that a child exhibits.

For example, if a child sits upside down looking at the clouds, or lies with their head on the floor when playing with toy cars, then they may well be exhibiting an orientation schema.

Likewise, if they are fascinated by things that rotate, such as glitter balls, wheels, or windmills, then they may well be showing a rotation schema.

Schemas have several functions in the process of learning.

They help children to explore ideas and thoughts.

They also help them express their thinking.

Schemas were first described as a concept in the 1920s by Jean Piaget, and the idea was developed by several leading educational psychologists. (Source)

Supporting Schemas

Schemas are not so important from a purely abstract and theoretical standpoint.

More importantly, understanding and supporting schemas will help children learn at a deeper and more accelerated rate.

That is why it is crucial to be able to spot them and know what to do when you have found them in action.

Supporting children’s schemas helps them to think, and to flourish. You are guiding them to make excellent progress through play.

So, for example, if you see that a child has an orientation schema (they like to see things from different perspectives and angles), then supplying some simple and largescale equipment will really help support this.

For example, a rope swing, or some large loose parts that the child can create an obstacle course with, will really help them engage with this fascination for experiencing things from a different orientation.

This will deepen the quality of their play.

What Is An Transporting Schema?

Children that exhibit a transporting schema are interested in carrying items from one place to another.

They are developing their understanding of how distance works.

They are also learning about where things belong, and how objects have a place that works best for them.

They are developing an understanding of journeys, and mapping.

Things You will Often Observe:

  • Children that are interested in filling objects such as buckets or containers, and taking them somewhere else.
  • Children that fill their pockets with objects to take to another part of the room.
  • Children that enjoy moving objects with trolleys and prams.
  • An enjoyment in moving water, sand, mud, or other malleable materials.

Supporting A Transporting Schema

You can support transporting schemas by allowing children to move things around a space (within reason!).

Providing lots of ways of moving equipment, such as trolleys and buckets really helps them.

Let’s take a look at a comprehensive list of 21 opportunities and activities that support a transporting schema.

I’m going to try to start with some less-obvious ones.

1. Helping Dispose Of Garbage

It’s important for children to start to understand the concept of garbage, and where it goes.

It is especially important for those children with a transporting schema.

Children can help by:

-Understanding what types of garbage can be recycled or not

-Where the different types of garbage go (e.g. in what bin)

-Doing litter picks

This all helps children develop a sense of where objects go in the world.

2. Tidying Up

Another simple one here!

I’m sure you do this anyway, of course, but one of the benefits of children tidying is that it supports their transporting schema.

Simply put – tidying up helps them learn the places of objects. This helps them to map out their surroundings.

3. Pipettes

This is another quite unusual one.

These pipettes are a fantastic resource for fine motor! I particularly use them with watered-down paint.

Squeeze the pipettes, such up some paint, and you can squirt it into all sorts of places!

Pipette activities for kids
Pipettes are fantastic for a range of art experiences indoors and outside

If you do this as an outdoor activity, then this is great for transporting.

I have done this on snowy days, with the children walking around and firing colored water into the snow. The colors make beautiful patterns and effects on the white background.

On warmer days, they can also go around firing water at different surfaces.

4. Tweezers

Transporting is often witnessed on a large scale, but it works also on a small scale.

By having tweezers readily available in your environment, children are able to move small objects from one place to another.

5. Wheelbarrows

This is a bit more of an obvious resource for this type of schema, but one with huge potential.

Adding a few wheelbarrows to an outdoor area should stimulate all kinds of transporting to happen.

Children will move objects around between locations, as well as pieces of clothing, and occasionally…their friends!

A girl transports containers around an outdoor learning environment
Wheelbarrows can help transporting all kinds of equipment around the space

6. Pulley Systems

You can have hours of fun with these!

If you like DIY, then complex systems of chains, wheels, and pulleys are possible.

Children can lift, and transport water, bark, mud, sand, and whatever other malleable materials you have to hand.

You can buy simple pulley systems for catalogs and education suppliers.

7. Moveable Containers

Just having a selection of simple containers that can be used around the space will get lots of interest.

Some items could include:

-Pots

-Pans

-Tubs

-Food containers

A selection of containers for transporting schemas around a classroom
A range of simple containers can aid transporting

8. Trailers

I have seen a range of different trailers in schools and preschools.

I recently saw a DIY one, that was just a sheet of wood with a rope attached (no wheels). Children were dragging objects, like leaves, along on in like a sled.

You also get wooden trailers with wheels, that you can pull using a rope or a handle.

Two girls sitting on a homemade trailer
DIY trailers like this are fantastic for transporting both people and objects

Larger trailers can transport children safely, as well as larger objects from around the space.

9. Gutters With Balls

You can use gutters in either a fixed or a non-fixed way.

I have seen some schools and preschools drills gutters onto walls or fences.

Then the children can roll water or balls down them.

In one school I worked in, we had this gutter creation attached to a palette (that was nailed to the wall).

DIY ball wall made of a palette and gutters
A spectacular ball wall attached to a palette

These tubes and gutters are all moveable, so you can create a unique path for small balls to be rolled down. This was great for critical thinking and problem-solving.

You can also get stands that will hold up gutters, and children can create their own pathways for objects to roll down.

10. Scavenger Hunts

This is another less-obvious activity that taps into the instincts of transporting schemas.

Go on a scavenger hunt, and collect whatever objects interest the children.

I have done this with each child holding a big lump of play (or playdough). When they find an object they are interested in, they wedge it into the clay or playdough.

You can also attach objects to sticky-back plastic on a piece of card.

Alternatively, just collect things in a bag.

11. Journey Sticks

This is an activity that links to mapping, and a sense of journey.

Go on a nature hunt, and see what the children find. For example, they might discover leaves, flowers, a stick, and some acorns.

Bring them back to the classroom, and attach each item to a long stick. You can attach them with string or rubber bands.

The stick then acts as a way for the children to remember their journey, and talk about what they saw in order.

A journey stick
A journey stick

12. Prams

A nice obvious idea here.

You’ve probably noticed how children enjoy transporting pretty much anything in prams, not just babies.

You’ve guessed it – this is the transporting schema in action.

13. Mud Kitchen Items

Many mud kitchen items are suitable to be used in many different locations around the setting.

Often children will be trying to find mud in different locations and will bring it back to the mud kitchen.

A girl scoops water from a puddle using a container from the mud kitchen
Mud kitchen equipment, such as jugs, are great for moving materials around the outdoor space

Some good kitchen appliances to have available include:

  • Spoons for digging and stirring
  • Whisks for stirring puddles, sand, and mud
  • Ladles for scooping and digging
  • Pots and pans for collecting all sorts of materials to bring back

Often these materials will not find their way back to the mud kitchen, but that is not too much of a problem! Just be sure to get them back in the big tidy-up at the end of the day.

14. Den Making Equipment

Having a central supply of sheets and pegs will support children in creating dens wherever they like around the space.

This is great for those with a transporting schema.

Children can attempt to create dens by hanging sheets over tree branches, fences, or whatever natural features your environment has.

A stick den
Den making in action

15. Bags

Having a selection of rucksacks, handbags, suitcases, and any other kind of bag you can find is a resource that will get a huge amount of interest.

Children will transport all sorts of weird and wonderful objects using these.

Bags can be added to specific learning areas such as role-play, both inside and out.

16. Provide Lots of Small Natural Loose Parts

It is nice to have a central store of some loose parts for the children to use in different learning environments.

Children particularly enjoy adding loose parts to some of these areas:

  • Sand play, where they can be transported further by diggers, or used as representational objects in play
  • Water play, where they can be used for floating and sinking, or as pretend boats
  • Construction play, where they can have a symbolic presence in the play

17. Big Loose Parts Outdoors

These can be transported around the area for a range of purposes.

Children can create large obstacle courses and walkways.

Or they can build, and create dens and other constructions.

Or they can use them in imaginary play, for example, these children using this long stick as a witches’ broomstick:

Using a long stick as an imaginary broomstick
A large stick makes a fantastic flying broomstick

18. Variety Of Different Sized Containers

Having variety is good, as it can get the children thinking about their transporting projects.

For example, you can only fit a few objects into a smaller container, but many more into a larger one.

19. Trolleys

These come in different forms.

You get the play trolleys, which are the mini-version of shopping trolleys.

Similar to prams, they will be used to transport all sorts of objects (not just ‘shopping’).

You also get trolleys that are similar to trailers, and sections of wood or metal with wheels and a handle.

20. Sand Play – Diggers, Trucks

Some children with a transporting schema will be really excited by using diggers, trucks, scoops, and other things that help to transport sand.

They may transport the sand around the sand-pit, or try to take it to other areas (though I normally don’t allow this personally!)

21. Baskets

Baskets can be used by individuals or groups of children together.

They can help transport a wide variety of objects.

22. Buckets

These will get plenty of use.

A good supply of buckets, particularly outdoors, will be used to transport all kinds of objects.

Water is a common one and can be added to a range of other areas, such as:

  • Sand
  • Mud
  • To the floor, to examine how it reacts

Children can also find objects such as leaves, stones, or nuts.

23. Boxes

The humble cardboard box is fantastic for so many aspects of early learning, and it is great for transporting.

Boxes can be turned into imaginary vehicles, or used for carrying objects between groups.

Managing Transporting

The transporting schema is such as common one and is one that causes probably the most issues in many classrooms.

You have to balance two things:

  1. On one side of the equation you want to support the need of some children to transport, and the benefits this provides them
  2. On the other hand it is important that some items are not transported around the space, and will cause problems if they are

For example, if children start putting paint into the sand area, this clearly causes problems!

Also, children transporting water or sand to other areas can cause big issues!

It is difficult to find the line between being flexible enough to allow lots of transporting, while still clamping down on more disruptive behaviors.

A good approach is to have some equipment that can be used anywhere, both inside and out, and some equipment that must stay in a specific location.

For example, in a sand area, you could separate the items as:

Items to stay in the area

Sand!

Diggers

Sand-wheels

Molds

Items that can be transported

A whisk

Spoons

Forks

There is no need to have a list set in stone like this – but just more to have a common-sense approach to how you like your environment to be run.

Setting and reinforcing boundaries is going to be key in the success of your approach.

Transporting Schemas – An Overview

A transporting schema is one that you’ll encounter a lot.

The important thing is not to get too stressed!

Children are learning a great deal from this common schema, and try your best to support it.

Add a range of simple equipment, such as trolleys, baskets, and containers to your setting, and children will be able to channel this instinct into constructive learning.

Martin Williams

Hi, I'm Martin Williams, creator of the Early Impact Learning blog. I'm a preschool and early years teacher of ten years experience, and I also run practical training courses for nurseries and schools.

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