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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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:
Transporting: Rice Balls – for children to like to move things from one place to another
Trajectory: Baked German Pancake – for children who love to pour
Rotating: Courgette & Carrot Bites – for children who love mixing
Enveloping: Mini Free-Form Apple Pies – for children who love to wrap things up
Containing: Chicken/Turkey Bread Baskets – for children who like to fill things
Connecting: Savoury Puff Pastry Tarts – for children who like to put things together
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?