Schema Development in the Foundation Phase: Small Talk Spring 2022

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationArticle


Phase Talking Point, Dr. Amanda Thomas and Pavla Boulton, from the University of South Wales, Newport explore outdoor risky play and schema development in the Early Years. In this smalltalk issue part two of the article looks at definitions of schema, schema development in the Foundation phase and Curriculum for Wales 2022 and why it is important for early years practitioners, in the non-maintained and the maintained sectors, to recognise and develop schemas.

At the end of the article you will find ‘work group supervision’ (Louis, 2021) or reflective questions that can be used to support you and your team to apply your ‘professional knowledge and experience’ (Louis, 2021, p.75) to your reading and observations, maybe as part of reflective journaling and supervision work or as
part of your staff meetings.

There are numerous definitions of schemas and what they mean. Many philosophers and theorists have researched ‘schemas’ and each has a slightly different approach to offer. Piaget suggested that children organise their knowledge and understanding of the world into cognitive structures which he called schemas (1959 and 1970). Athey (1990) stated that schemas were, ‘a pattern of repeatable behaviour into which experiences were assimilated and that are gradually co-ordinated’. Nutbrown defines schemas as a ‘pattern of behaviour which has a consistent thread running through it’ (2006, p.10).

Fig.1 provides an overview of schemas to help construct a working understanding (Thomas, 2019).There are many different dynamic action schemas (Athey, 1990). Figure 2 illustrates the most common schemas seen in Early Years settings. Each of these schemas is broken down and explained in the ‘Planning for Schemas Toolkit’ (Thomas, 2019) and each is supported by suggestions, resources, activities, and vocabulary that Early Years practitioners can utilise, as well as links to the areas of learning in the Foundation Phase and the Curriculum for Wales. These ideas will help to support practice to nurture children’s schematic development.

What is a schema?
A schema is a repeated action, often seen in the behaviours of young children.
Schemas are biological. We are born with them but the offered environment helps to support and develop them.

Schemas and learning?
Schemas help us to organise our thoughts and actions. They are often seen when young children are allowed to lead their play.

Why are they important?
Schemas link to developments in the brain. They support children’s development and learning.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Specialist publicationSmall Talk
PublisherEarly Years Wales
Publication statusPublished - 21 May 2022


Dive into the research topics of 'Schema Development in the Foundation Phase: Small Talk Spring 2022'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this