Step Ahead Teacher with children

Understanding children’s impulsiveness

We’ve all noticed that children can have sudden impulsive actions when playing, like climbing or throwing. These impulses or urges are known as ‘schemas’ in children’s play and are an important concept when it comes to the development of our children. It’s worth taking the time to understand them so you can facilitate them when you see them.

What are these schemas?

Well it’s really a fancy word for the urges that children have to do things like climbthrow things and hide in small places.

They appear through play; perhaps it is the way they choose to do things, or what they desperately need to do out of the blue!

Here are ten of these natural play-urges mapped out in a list, they can come one at a time, in bunches, some are super strong and last for ages… each child is different.

They are the building blocks for the brain, repeated behaviour that in turn forge connections in the brain, patterns of unfolding, learning and growth.

Schemas are such an important part in every child’s development that they are covered in training for anyone in the business of care and education of young children – yet not too many parents seem to know about these natural,uncontrollable and totally necessary play-urges that all children have.

Knowing about these play-urges can help us to understand why our children are so determined to do certain things that we might not understand. If we have no idea about the way in which a child exhibits signs of brain development, then we might actually think that the child is being ‘difficult’ or even try to stop the developmental urges themselves.

By knowing about these schemas we can recognise and support their urges and development.  

Orientation – The urge to hang upside down, get the view from under the table or on top of the dresser and other actions that are part of the Orientation schema. In order to ‘know’ what it is like to hang upside down or see things from a different point of view you must take yourself into those positions.  Although you and I might not hang upside down very often these days, we still ‘know’ what it feels like to hang upside down – because we have the experience – we learned what it was to hang upside down when we too had our Orientation urge kick in.

Positioning – Do you find yourself Positioning things neatly into alignment on your desk, ordering the books on the self, getting creative when you plate the dinner or even just tidying-up.  Perhaps you see your child lining up their cars, making sure the whale is next to the cow, or turning all the cups upside down? The Positioning is a schema that is kept alive in us all.

Connection – Joining train tracks, clicking together pieces of lego, running a string from one thing to another… the urge of Connection. This can mean connecting and disconnecting too, building followed by destruction, and that can mean other peoples buildings and sandcastles get destructed when the urge gets hold.

Trajectory – The urge to throw, drop and other actions that are all part of the Trajectory schema.  Some other Trajectory actions are things like climbing up and jumping off (Trajectory of ones own body), putting your hand under running water (interacting with things that are already moving) and the classic, throwing and dropping (making it happen). It can be diagonal, vertical or horizontal… this is a multi-dimensional urge, after all learning is based on movement in the first years of life.

Enveloping – To have a sheet over your head, wrapping things in fabrics or with tape and paper – all actions seen in the Enveloping schema. An extension of this is peek-a-boo, now you see it now you don’t, a concept that just keeps on amusing.

Enclosure/Container – The urge to fill up cups with water, climb into cardboard boxes or kitchen draws, build fences for the animals or to put all the animals inside the circular train track, it is the Enclosure/Container schema.

Transporting – Transporting can be the urge to carry many things on your hands at one time, in jars, in buckets and baskets, or even better containers with wheels.

Rotation – Anything that goes around anything that is circular – wheels, turning lids, watching the washing machine on spin cycle, drawing circles, spinning around on the spot, being swung around.  These are all experiences of the Rotation schema.

Transformation – The urge to Transform can come in many forms; holding all your food in your mouth for a long time to see what it turns into, mixing your juice with your fish pie, water with dirt, or helping Granny with mixing the bread dough. It’s only natural that once you have explored and learnt about a raw material you should want to do further testing… there is a scientist and a chef in everyone.

Bringing It All Together

Over looking at each schema individually to get to grips with what each ‘urge’ is all about we may already be able to recognise some of the different ways they can appear in your child. Rotation, Trajectory, Enveloping, Orientation, Positioning, Connection, Enclosure/Container, Transporting and Transformation are urges that show in all children starting as early as their first birthday, some times before.

How Can Knowing About These Urges Help Us?

As a parent, one of the best things about having an understanding of these urges is that we are able to recognise and support them in our children as soon as we see them.
Sometimes they will come through as what we might once have seen as ‘inappropriate behaviour’ such as throwing objects in enclosed spaces or climbing on the table.
When we observe the behaviour and recognise the urge we are able to redirect it, your child will be happy to throw something outside where it is okay, or climb a tree instead! It’s not about the action, it’s about the urge. If the action is dangerous, harmful or inappropriate then find a more suitable outlet for the urge. That way the energy seeking expression (the urge) can fulfil its role in your child’s development, and in an acceptable way.

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