What is a Schema?

A schema in terms of play, is described as a repeated pattern of behaviour which helps some children explore ideas and put meaning to their actions so that they can make sense of the world. It is thought to be necessary for a child’s cognitive development and an important part of learning.

The Transporting Schema

Children who enjoy moving things about or transporting items from one place to another, may be displaying a pattern of behaviour known as the transporting schema. It is one of the more common schemas to see and many children find this type of activity engaging at some point in their development. So what might they be gaining from exploring transporting in their play?

Exploring Transporting… What is being gained?

Firstly, children are using their senses. They are testing out heavy and light, large and awkward, tiny and light. They are investigating quantities and volume by seeing how much of something will fit in their barrow, pocket or bucket and are learning that they can move items from one location to another. In essence they are assimilating information about their environment which can then be built on in the future.

During play involving transporting, children can start to involve pretend play too. The bag of sticks and leaves is actually the groceries or the acorns might be coins. This pre-operational  stage typically starts to be exhibited between the ages of two and seven years old and it is when children start to think symbolically, making one object represent another. An important precursor to understanding that a sound or phoneme can be represented by letters or graphemes or a quantity can be recorded as a written digit. Pretend play can, in addition, give children a chance to act out real life scenarios and work through associated emotions while they play.

As children develop, we may start to see them use the knowledge they have gained through exploration and apply this to different linked scenarios. This is sometimes described as functional dependency. With the transporting schema, it may be choosing the correct size bag to transport something in because they have gained experience of volume through dynamic play. They may know that an item is too heavy to carry a distance on their own and seek  another to help them or find a barrow to aid them.   They are beginning to explore ideas of cause and effect while becoming more resourceful.

Enhancing the Woodland Environment

The wonderful thing about learning in a forest setting is the abundant resources present in the environment itself. There is no need to add lots of extra materials or loose parts for little people to transport about. There are heaps of leaves, moss and soil, water and thousands of that all time favourite, STICKS just waiting to be collected, moved and played with. It is also an environment that allows greater risk taking for a child, branches and logs that are probably too heavy and large to use in another setting, are there for the children to experiment with. It means that they can learn their own limitations through discovery rather than an adult setting limitations for them.

Keeping it Real…

At our sessions we aim to support schematic play by providing as many opportunities as we can that offer exploration in a real life context. Our belief is that this has more meaning to the child as it is relatable and transferable but that it also values their play as being something that is real, not just an imitation of real life. For example, we would rather provide real buckets than toy ones, the pulleys and ropes we use are all authentic. Our barrows and brooms, although small are as near to an adult version as possible. It says to the child, my play is real, it’s not just a game but something of worth and this has big implications for a child’s self esteem.

Real resources to provide outdoors:





Old handbags

Wheel barrows

Dustpan and brush

Spades and trowels

Hessian sacks


Spoons and ladles


‘Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.’

Kay Redfield Jamison