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 schematic play activities that are so much fun, and simple resources you can have to hand that will help children get the best out of this fascination.
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 and child development.
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)
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 large scale 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 A Transporting Schema?
Children who 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 who are interested in filling objects such as buckets or containers and taking them somewhere else.
- Children who fill their pockets with objects to take to another part of the room.
- Children who 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 this play schema by allowing children to transport objects 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 transporting play 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 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.
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!
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.
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.
This is a bit more of an obvious resource for transporting play 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!
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:
- Food containers
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 along objects like leaves on a sled.
You also get wooden trailers with wheels, that you can pull using a rope or a handle.
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 drill 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).
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 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.
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 transporting play schema.
Children can attempt to create dens by hanging sheets over tree branches, fences, or whatever natural features your environment has.
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:
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.
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 transporting play 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!)
Baskets can be used by individuals or groups of children together.
They can help transport a wide variety of objects.
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:
- To the floor, to examine how it reacts
Children can also find objects such as leaves, stones, or nuts.
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.
The transporting play schema is such as common one and is one that causes probably the most issues in many classrooms.
You have to balance two things:
- On one side of the equation you want to support the need of some children to transport, and the benefits this provides them
- 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:
Items that can be transported:
- A whisk
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 to 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.