Learning and Development

Schemes in early years – roleplay activities

  • Schemes in early years – roleplay activities

Providing a meaningful context supports and extends children’s investigations, says Lynnette Brock…

1 | Observe play

By watching children’s self-chosen, free-flow play, you’ll see them demonstrating what they can and want to do. They’ll draw on their operational schemes, such as transporting, containing or connecting, to explore particular investigative pursuits.

For example, Archie is filling two different sized cups with dried peas. He fills and empties each one in turn, starting with the largest cup, which he then empties into a smaller one (which overflows).

The action of filling and emptying is repeated several times. He says, “You put all of them in here – it’s a lot and it’s big! If you put them in this small one, I don’t think that’s a lot, is it? They don’t all fit!”

2 | Dig deeper

In the example above, a containing scheme is being applied by Archie. Helpfully, he also verbalised his scheme operation, saying, “You put all of them in here.” This is an example of language being embodied (the meaning of the word is tied with the sensory motor processing unit associated with its meaning).

The containing scheme supports exploration of ‘inside’, ‘outside’ and the ‘barrier between the two’, as well as figurative knowledge of containers.

However, your role is to dig deeper than simply observing, noting and ‘seeding’ the scheme across different contexts within the nursery environment. You should also ask yourself, “What is Archie exploring? What do I understand about his play?”.

3 | Make a plan

Archie is also exploring quantity, and perhaps capacity and size, but he is struggling to ascertain whether both cups contain ‘a lot’.

Providing a meaningful context for capacity and quantity to be explored through roleplay, anchored in the containing scheme, could support and extend Archie’s investigation, as well as his developing mathematical language and communication.

4 | Introduce role play

Once a theme that can match Archie’s scheme operation and investigation is identified, consider what he and the other children in the setting know about the role.

A nursery outing or visit by a parent to talk about their job could offer an insight, which you can further support with videos and by reading stories and singing songs.

Try and use relevant roleplay props that will enable, for example, the containing scheme to be applied in the story context. When you plan roleplay to support a specific child’s investigation, consider how adults will initially model the play to support the investigation, and how other children could access the play.

For example, there may be children applying a transporting or rotating scheme. Incorporating these operations into the theme may result in a richer, more collaborative, play. Children are social beings whose competences are interwoven with those of others; often enhancing their role-taking and narratives.

5 | Resource the play

The job role, the child’s scheme application(s) and their investigation(s) inform what specific props you select. For Archie, consider resources to support perception of quantity, capacity and size, anchored in his application of containing.

Seed the environment with different sized cones for selling popcorn, different quantities of goods to be sorted and stored in crates, or different sized wheelbarrows or buckets to contain and transport varying quantities of goods.

Dressing up (as a garden centre worker, for example) can really help children immerse themselves into roles, and to identify different clothes for different jobs or weather conditions.

Everyday activities contain literate experiences. Therefore, resources should provide opportunities for markmaking, recording, tallying and seeing texts in different formats.

6 | Facilitate gender equality

Plan to support children’s operational schemes and their investigations, ensuring that roleplay themes are not directed by gender, but by children’s capabilities and enquiries.

7 | Identify new schemes

Once Archie has used containers to support his investigation of volume and quantity in various roleplay themes, containing has anchored new schemes to be acquired and developed. These include sorting, categorising, counting, grading by size, tallying and recording quantities. He can now recognise and form numbers as a result of seeing number symbols while enjoying differing roles. It all started with containing and an enquiry: “I don’t think that’s a lot, is it?”

Lynnette Brock is Director of SchemaPlay Community Interest Company. SchemaPlay Community Interest Company provides early years SchemaPlay™ training.