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Posted in Kids Stuff, Life, Parenting | 15 comments

Does your toddler have a Schema?

Does your toddler have a Schema?

A few weeks ago before we moved to The Barn I popped up a post about the Little Man’s love of pouring. I had a really interesting comment about Schemas from Annabel Woolmer from Tickle Fingers. Schemas, I wondered… what’s that? So of course, I invited Annabel to be my guest here and tell us more about it!

Annabel is the author of the awesome Tickle Fingers Cookbook: recipes & tips for cooking with a toddler (Amazon £8.99) and founder of Cook with Toddlers, a project to promote resources for cooking with children aged 1 to 4. You can join her community for recipes and more and be sure to follow her on ,  and too for lots of great tips about cooking with kids.

Annabel Woolmer of Tickle Fingers


Does your toddler have a Schema?

One morning at my local Sure Start Centre playgroup, I sat watching my eldest, then 15 months, push a buggy up and down the room, putting things in and out, over and over again.  The lady who ran the playgroup said to me: “your daughter is a Transporter.”

She saw my puzzled look and told me about Schemas.  She explained that Schemas are different ways that young children play.  The main ones are Transporting, Transforming, Rotating, Enveloping, Containing, Trajectory and Connecting.

Transporters love moving things from place to place.  Containers like to put things (and themselves) in and out of things.  Connectors love laying stuff out, doing jigsaws, constructing things.  Transformers enjoy seeing/making things change; they’re the ones who’ll insist on adding water to the sand pit or always mix paints together just to see them change colour.    Rotators love anything that goes around.  Young children might show a strong tendency towards one Schema, several, or different ones at different stages.

Annabel's daughter - a transporter

When I got home, I did some googling.  The more I read, the more I thought she was spot on.  My daughter was at her happiest ‘transporting’ things.  At 9 months, she was suddenly determined to walk.  I’m sure that was because she couldn’t carry stuff while she was crawling.  Even before she’d mastered it, everywhere she tottered, she’d have something in her hand.  Now she is 5 and she still insists on taking a toy with her if we go out.


Why does it matter?

The reason for thinking about Schemas and why I was so intrigued is that you can use them to your advantage. If you spot your child showing a tendency towards a certain Schema, you can improve their engagement in an activity or toy (and therefore potential to learn) by re-enforcing it.

Michelle asked me to write this post because I commented on her son’s fascination with pouring.  This, along with throwing, kicking and climbing, can be a sign of the ‘Trajectory’ Schema.  So, if Michelle wants to try cooking with Little Man, she might have the most success by picking recipes that allow him to pour things, preferably from a height!   If she wants to teach him colours, Little Man could be most engaged by a game like dropping different coloured items into the right coloured bucket/pot.

Little Man and his love of pouring!


Schemas & Cooking


Some toddlers are immediately fascinated by cooking.  Others take a bit more warming up.  With the right approach, they can get a lot from it: exploring food, improving fine motor skills and concentration, counting practice, confidence from doing something by themselves etc… . Schemas are one of the things I like to think about when considering how best to approach cooking with a toddler. With my Transporter daughter, the choice of recipe wasn’t important.   As long as she was doing a lot of moving things from board to bowl, bowl to cupcake case or bowl to bowl, she was happy.

Annabel cooking with her youngest who is 15 months

However with my youngest, the choice of recipe was more important. At about 18 months, she started to show signs of being an Enveloper. Give her paint and a piece of paper and she would cover every last bit in paint. Then she would go on to paint her hands and up her arms! She loved to sit under blankets and play. She still does; she calls it “her own private world.”

Painting by Annabel's daughter - an Enveloper

When she’s older, she’s going to accuse me of favouritism because I have so many more pictures done by her sister as a toddler. The reason is because whenever Youngest draws something, she gets a dark felt tip and covers over the whole thing. As an Enveloper, she seems to enjoy recipes where she can get her hands right into the mixture or where she gets to ‘cover’ ingredients (apple crumble). She loves to have the pastry brush and brush oil all over pans to grease them or all over filo pastry to make samosas. And she loves to ‘wrap’ things up (wraps, samosas).

But, while she loves all of this, she’s not remotely interested in the usual cooking with toddlers winner: mixing. She usually gives the mix a couple of prods and asks me to do it. Whereas, give a wooden spoon to a child who is a Rotator and ask them to mix and they’d be in seventh heaven. If want to know more, the Tickle Fingers Cookbook has a bit on identifying Schemas and consequently, which cooking tasks/recipes they might like.

Just for fun, here is a Tickle Fingers recipe to cook with a toddler for each main Schema:

Rice Balls by Tickle Fingers

Transporting: Rice Balls – for children to like to move things from one place to another

Baked German Pancake

Trajectory: Baked German Pancake – for children who love to pour

Courgette and carrot bites

Rotating: Courgette & Carrot Bites – for children who love mixing

Mini apple pies

Enveloping: Mini Free-Form Apple Pies – for children who love to wrap things up

Chicken bread baskets

Containing: Chicken/Turkey Bread Baskets – for children who like to fill things

Savoury puff pastry tarts

Connecting: Savoury Puff Pastry Tarts – for children who like to put things together

Plum fool

Transforming: Plum Fool – for children who enjoy making things change colour or texture

What do you think? Does your toddler show signs of a Schema?  What activities or games might you do to re-enforce it?



  1. How interesting. Funnily enough, I knew about schemas in a different context from the job I used to do, but would never have considered schemas in children. I don’t think I can see a tendency to just one of these yet in my little ones, but I’ll keep a look out now!

    Great post!
    Silly Mummy recently posted…‘Come On, Guys': The Ten Funniest Things The Toddler Said Last Week

  2. This is so interesting! I remember a friend of mine who’s a school teacher talking about this when my son was younger, because he always wanted things in straight lines. He’s also always been really good at jigsaw puzzles which makes him a real connector! x

  3. Wow this is really interesting I think I have seen Boo go through different phases, the two that stick out for me is container and transporter. I really like the idea of tailoring activities. Thanks for sharing.
    Jenni – Odd Socks and Lollipops recently posted…Review – BabyBjorn Baby Carrier Active

  4. Such a fascinating post – this has definitely made me think about how my children approach things. Jessica sounds like she is a Connector and I think Sophie is probably a Transporter. I love the advice about how to approach cooking differently by focusing on the child’s particular schema. So interesting.
    Louise recently posted…Parental sleep positions

  5. Wonderful post and reminds me of my teacher training, there are so many different types of learning and ‘learners’-my eldest is so analytical and loves to find the recipe, measure as well as actual bake for example, my youngest loves sport (he’s what I know of, as more of a kinaesthetic learner) although he loves to sit for hours to draw too. I think as much as terms can help, I’m wary of compartmentalising and thus potentially limiting children too. I’ve found from my teaching (GCSE English & Media) and lecturing work (BA and MA Screenwriting/ Drama/ Media & Comms) as well as my own kids, that learning and modes of it are fluid and change with exposure, experience and age too. Lovely post and gorgeous pictures x
    HonestMum recently posted…Wonderful Women-Interview with heidi klein’s Creative Director, Heidi Gosman

  6. I love reading about the first time parents see a higher level thinking to their Childrens play, I’ve been teaching schemes & delivering heuristic play sessions for years & it’s so am chuffed you’ve highlighted this. Fab post Chic! #sharethejoy
    Ali recently posted…Are you a positive parent?

  7. This is so interesting!!! So which shema would a toddler/ hurricane be that is intent on exploration/destruction, loves stacking things/knocking them down, pulling things out into the middle of the floor, loves repetition in books, strong willed/defiance, knows exactly what she wants and you can not change her mind, because she will simply bend you to her will….. :-)
    Erin @ Nourishing My Scholar recently posted…Image of the Week

  8. Gosh this is fascinating! Funnily enough, my sister in law was talking about this kind of thing the other week (she’s a nursery nurse). Isn’t it amazing how we all learn differently and how different things appeal to us?

    Elsie is most definitely a transporter, so this really makes sense to me. Thanks for sharing. Really interesting stuff! xx
    Kate /PoutingInHeels recently posted…How to have a GREAT family holiday (with little stress)

  9. This is so fascinating! My son is 2 years and 3 months and I think we’ve been through a few schemas already, with the current ones being transforming and transporting. He has also always been intrigued by cooking so it’s really interesting to get ideas on how best to incorporate his natural tendencies as I don’t think I’ve always gotten it right in the past.

    • Thanks Eline – I completely loved the idea of schemas with specific cooking ideas. Glad you liked it too! x

  10. Can’t make the links in this post work…

    • Thanks for letting me know Iota – WordPress was putting random spaces in the URLs but it’s fixed now! x

  11. Really interesting. Does a strong schema carry on into later childhood, and even adult life?

    My sons were really bored by Lego (other boys of mums couldn’t understand!), but were happy moving a pile of gravel from one side of the garden to the other in buckets, and back again, to and fro, to and fro, for hours.

    • My Eldest’s Transporting tendency is showing no sign of going away. She is 5.5 now. We went to a market on Tuesday and she was allowed to pick any toy she wanted (in her budget!). She wasn’t interested. The only thing she wanted to buy was a little bag. She then put some random bits and bobs in it and it hasn’t left her shoulder since. So I’m no expert but I reckon it can continue.



  1. Share the Joy link up #15 - Bod for tea - […] week I’m sharing a guest post from Annabel Woolmer with some fab advice about how you can apply cooking …

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