Teaching and learning

Play schemas in practice: 10 transporting schema play ideas

Part six of a nine-part series on schematic play activities
A child stacks buckets used for the transporting play schema
October 28, 2022
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This series of articles explores the 9 main play schemas, and offers activities to support and develop each one.

n this article, we’re looking at the transporting play schema. If you'd like to see the other articles, or read about play schemas more generally, you can do that here. Or, to go straight to the next one in the series, just click here.

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What is the transporting play schema?

A transporting schema is one of the most common play schemas. As a practitioner you’re likely to see this one a lot! We tend to notice it because it involves children carrying objects around the play areas. So if we’re finding dolls’ prams full of cars, buckets full of conkers, LEGO pieces and blocks, or, yes, sand in the book corner, we are probably witnessing a transporting play schema at work.

Some of the common interests of children with a transporting schema may include:

  • Moving and carrying items with prams, trolleys or wheelbarrows
  • Filling buckets and containers and walking around with them
  • Playing with mud, sand, or sensory materials
  • Making collections of small items that they take around with them
  • Filling their pockets with objects and moving them to another place

It’s likely that all of this sounds very familiar if you’ve been working in Early Years for a little while. But it’s important to consider what children are learning through this play schema.

Observing and developing children’s play schemas is a fantastic way for practitioners to tune into the voice of the child, because play schemas by their very nature demonstrate children’s thoughts, preferences and interests. In terms of child development, they are a way that children explore their own ideas and thoughts and express their thinking through play.

Noticing play schemas at work helps practitioners to understand the individual children's development. To support children in schematic play, you simply need to provide play opportunities that help them to continue exploring.

With all this in mind, here are 10 ways to help children explore the transporting play schema.

1. Sorting objects with pom-poms and tweezers

Source: Busy Toddler- Pom Pom sorting

The schema play idea: Pom pom and tweezer activities are great for developing fine motor skills and building up the muscles in the fingers, hands and wrists ready for children to learn to write later on, however, they are also a fantastic way for children to develop their transporting play schema on a small scale. Here, everything is still quite contained, but there is still the opportunity for children to experiment with moving objects from place to place.

What you need:

  • Pom poms or other small items
  • Tweezers, tongs or pegs to move the items
  • Bowls or small containers
  • A tray to keep everything together 

How you do it: Use a tray to keep everything contained, and give children a discrete area to work and set up a selection of different containers. Place pom poms or other small items into one of the containers and provide children with tongs, giant tweezers or even clothes pegs to grip and move the items from one container to another. Items like conkers, small pine cones or acorns could be ideal for children exploring natural resources, or you could use shells, stones or buttons depending on what you have available.

Depending on your children's ages, you could place numerals in the containers and ask children to sort the corresponding number of items into that container.

2. Messy learning in the muddy kitchen

Source: Early Years Staffroom: Mud Kitchens

The schema play idea: Really I can not say enough good things about muddy kitchens and muddy kitchen play in the Early Years! They are the perfect open-ended resource for outdoor play and are ideal for children with a transporting schema. You don’t need a purpose-built ‘muddy kitchen’ for this kind of play, just some space and ideally some surfaces for children to use.

Children with a transporting play schema can choose to fill the containers, mix different items and substances within the containers and experiment with moving items around the outdoor area! 

What you need:

  • Muddy kitchen- or just a space to play
  • Lots of loose parts and natural resources
  • Pots, pans, jugs, and other containers
  • Mud!

How you do it: Source and provide a range of equipment for children to use as a muddy kitchen. Think different sized pots, pans, jugs, baking trays, checking that they are safe for children to use, and allow the children to access these as part of your outdoor provision.

Children with a transporting schema may move items on a small scale from pot to pan to jug, and so on, or may want to move things around on a larger scale; perhaps picking some grass from one area, gathering twigs from another, mixing them up with some mud in the mud kitchen and then moving their beautiful mud cake to yet another area of the outdoor space.

3. Transporting play with tubes and pipes

Source: Illinois Early Learning- Investigating Pipes

The schema play idea: Pipes and tubes help children explore the way in which substances can be moved from one place to another. Rolling items down tubes and pipes lets children with a transporting play schema to work within their interest, watching how items or substances move from one place to another. This can then become the site for lots of experimental learning, where children can test out the properties of different items. This problem solving process allows children to explore lots of STEM learning as they build an understanding of different ways to move objects around.

What you need:

  • Lengths of pipe, these can be plastic drain pipe, cable pipe or flexible plumbing materials.
  • A selection of items to fit into the pipes; balls, toy vehicles, natural resources like conkers.
  • Water, sand, and messy play resources

How you do it: Children can help you to select pipes based on how long they are, how wide their openings are or how bendy they are, and adults should take advantage of teachable moments encouraging children to experiment with speed and distance. Making use of open ended questions in this way will help to extend and expand children’s thinking.  Some children may want to record their results through mark making or writing, or using technology to record videos or take photos of their experiments. 

4. Get outside for a nature scavenger hunt

Source: LEAP Lambeth: Nature scavenger hunt

The schema play idea: Getting children outdoors more and keeping them active to meet the physical activity guidelines is a priority in the Early Years. operating within the transporting play schema are investigating the concepts of journey, moving and distance.

What you need

  • Outdoor area or planned outing
  • A list of things for children to find (try the Woodland trust for inspiration)
  • Containers for children to keep their treasures in!

How you do it: Provide children with a checklist of things to find, these might be specific items like ‘a pinecone’ or ‘a chestnut leaf’ (use photos!) or you might simply provide colours for children to match objects to depending on their age, stage, interests and needs. Help children collect things matching those on their lists and provide children with baskets, boxes or buckets too, so they can transport their treasures back to nursery.

5. Mapping out stories on paper

Source: Starcatchers: Active Storytelling

The schema play idea: Mapping stories helps to develop children’s listening skills, imagination, non-verbal memory and ability to create pictures in their mind. It can also support emergent concepts of distance, space and interactions and relationships between different objects.

What you need

  • A story book
  • A sheet or large sheet of paper
  • Pens/pencils/crayons
  • Lots of imaginations

How you do it: Lay out a sheet or roll of paper, and tape it down to the floor or a table so it’s easier to work with. Read a story out loud and support children to create a map of the story. For example, in Goldilocks and the Three Bears there will be Goldilocks' house, the three bears' house, and the woods in between. Children engaged in a transporting play schema will enjoy finding the path from one place to another. To enhance play you could provide small world figures that move around the story map. Encourage children to add new “scenery” to the map as the story develops. 

6. Taking a trip to the postbox

Source: Lancashire County Council- Making a card and posting it

The schema play idea: Writing a letter or card and then taking a trip to the postbox supports a real range of skills and can also support transporting schemas too, as children can use the sending or receiving of a letter as a means of understanding the concept of a journey.

What you need

  • Envelopes
  • Variety of paper and card 
  • Pens, pencils, crayons
  • Stamps

How you do it: The basic idea is that the children are going to send a letter on a journey. You might choose to pair up with another setting in a different part of the country and exchange letters, or perhaps write to someone influential, you could post letters to the children’s homes or even post letters straight back to nursery! The key concept is that children make a card or write a letter, put a stamp on it and go on an outing to the nearest post box or post office to see the letter sent on its way.

7. Shoe shop role play

Source: The Imagination Tree- Shoe Shop Dramatic Play

The schema play idea: Role play is a real staple of early education (to think more deeply about how it benefits children, have a look at our article here), and any kind of shop role play is ideal for children using a transporting schema. However, a shoe shop is particularly ideal as it is something that many young children will have had recent experience of, and, of course, the shoes that children “buy” from their role play shop can be transported around the room by being worn.

What you need

  • Shoes
  • Shoe boxes
  • Baskets
  • Foot measuring gauges
  • Money, till, price tags
  • Any other enhancements

How you do it: Provide children with a selection of shoes, a till and play money, baskets, price tags, measuring gauges and anything else you think might help them to engage in role play based around a shoe shop scenario. You may wish to play alongside the children to begin with to help model how to play, but soon enough children will be able to play independently in their own way, trying on and buying shoes.

8. Water beads on the marble run

Source: PBS Kids- Build a dam and explore water flow

The schema play idea: Children with a transporting play schema typically like to move things around, and that includes experimenting with how different things move and flow when they set them off. Setting up a marble run is also a great activity on its own and offers a range of different developmental benefits. However, adding the element of  the water beads can transform the marble run into an experiment and a sensory experience which really helps support a transporting schema.

What you need

  • Water beads or tapioca pearls
  • Water tray, or plastic box 
  • Marble run

How you do it: Water beads and tapioca pearls need time to grow, check the instructions but usually they need to be left overnight. You could turn this into a bit of a science lesson, helping children understand osmosis on a very basic level by setting the water beads up to soak one afternoon. Children can help to design and build a marble run and send the water beads down it, noting patterns about where they move quickly and where they get stuck. 

9. Construction play tray

Source: Pre-school Play- Construction Tray

The schema play idea: Construction vehicles are designed with transporting in mind so they’re easy to load up with mud, sand or other sensory materials, and little transporters will be happy to play for an extended period of time, moving things around, going over bridges or around the edge of the tray and experimenting with building piles and clearing areas.

What you need:

  • Tuff tray, or builders mixing tray
  • Sand, mud or sensory materials
  • Toy diggers and dumpers
  • Extra elements like guttering or bridges

How you do it: Fill a tuff tray or builders mixing tray with sand, soil, gravel or another sensory material like porridge oats or lentils and provide children with toy diggers, dump trucks, small spades or spoons and some enhancements like bridges or pieces of guttering. Children can then engage in lots of transporting play, moving mud from one area to another, and moving the diggers and dump trucks around too.

10. Water Play with pipettes

Source: Nurture store- Water play with pipettes

The schema play idea: As we’ve looked at previously, the transporting schema doesn’t just apply to solid single objects — many children also like to transport substances like sand or water. Lots of children will enjoy mixing different coloured water together and experimenting with how colours combine and change. Using pipettes is a fantastic way to build fine motor skills and develop the small muscles in the fingers that children need for pencil control and writing.

What you need:

  • Water
  • Food colouring
  • Paper
  • Pipettes

How you do it:  Set out jars filled with water and food colouring. Provide children with paper and pipettes and allow them to play in ways that are meaningful for them, using the pipettes to “transport” the water onto the paper. The activity can also be adapted to suit children's particular interests, needs, age and stage of development by choosing the colours that are set out, or perhaps by adding different implements to transport the water with things like cotton buds or paint brushes.

The big ideas

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UK Nursery Covid-19 Response Group Recommendations

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Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

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