Leave the play dough on the table, please... can you relate?

Leave the play dough on the playdough table please!” 

Is this a statement you can relate to? 
A sentence you’ve heard yourself uttering as you watch a child busily taking their freshly made play dough cakes and attempting to wander across the room to the home ‘corner’ and pop them in the pretend cooker. 

Do you set up resources at the beginning of the day & miraculously they’ve all moved, vanished, deposited elsewhere or found outside?

Do you have children whose only desire ( it seems ) is to fill up handbags and baskets and wander around all day collecting stuff from around the room ? Maybe you have a child who just constantly fills up the trailer on their truck and wheels it about the garden all day?

Perhaps you can recall a particular child who constantly has bulging pockets or can be found depositing random items to their collection or a pile somewhere in the room? Oh my goodness, these actions can sometimes cause us such frustration, where have all the pencils gone? Where have all the loose parts gone off this table? Are you concerned that stuff is getting mixed up, moved and transported? Have you spent ages setting up a beautifully created Tuff tray only to have the contents disappear or moved with two seconds flat!

We have spoken recently about how children learn and that through play they are exploring, investigating and making sense of the world around them. ‘A schematic learning style or commonly known as a schema !”We simply explain these as a child’s favourite way of playing, their impulses, urges and a desired way to do things! 

Repeated patterns in their behaviour. Let’s remember children aren’t moving stuff about, mixing things up because they get up one morning and think ‘I know what I’m going to make my key worker, parent carer’s day tough today “ I’m just going to switch up the whole room and walk about moving stuff about all day “

That’s not it! 

Let’s pause, to wait watch and wonder what’s actually going on here! Have you ever stopped to watch, notice the individual ways children DO Things? Repeat ‘DO’ things! 

We are not asking you to notice WHAT they ‘LiKE’ playing WITH!

But what are the actions, urges impulses children have?

Those repetitive actions or behaviours. The repeated ways the DO something? Over the past few days we have talked about ‘ schematic learning styles’ how through certain actions children are constructing meaning, assimilating information. 

Assimilation?  Let’s recognise this as another schematic learning style ( of which there are many ) 

This one is called quite simply a ‘Transporting’ schema So! How can we support a child with this particular urge or learning style? Instead of stopping children in their tracks, instead of halting them as they ( what we assume) is a desire to just mess up the place or intentionally trample play dough into the carpet.


Notice, pause be mindfully aware of the intentions, the ideas, the urge, purpose, the compulsion, the desire, the assimilation and compounding of information. 

The cognitive development. Notice instead what they are doing!

Where they are going with stuff? Maybe they are not actually going anywhere at all -remember also we have to always relate schemas to the stage of cognitive development of a child ( while other post about cognitive developmental stages as explained by Piaget! WAIT WATCH WONDER and notice the concentration, the determination, the joy, happiness, the complete unawareness of anyone else in the room! 

They are deeply engaged in a ‘self chosen' play experience. They are learning !

No! It might not make sense to us and that’s OK but it does to the child! So next time you say - “Leave the play dough on the play dough table please” Consider what ideas, play opportunities or learning are you stopping in its tracks? 

Do you know the schematic learning style of a child? How can we support a child with a ‘transporting’ schema? How can we create rich powerful play spaces and YES opportunities Provide …

A wealth of bags, baskets, purses, trolleys, wheelbarrows,


Pulley systems

Allowing them to fill, move and transport!

Jugs, buckets, containers for sand water play and texture kitchens

Children will use the items how they desire, if they are moved from that area, pause and look at WHAT they are doing!

Turkey basters or pipettes for water play. Syphoning up and depositing to another place, container ?!?!

Provide ample loose parts, provide big collections of things.

  • Large loose parts outside too
  • Crates, tyres, movable items
  • Den making equipment
  • Make travelling journey sticks
  • Unpacking and moving resources.
  • Putting the shopping away
  • Tidying up/ back where things belong.
  • Scavenger hunts
  • Finally a holistic play space not confined by areas, specific mats, zones and places resources must remain
  • See it as one big play space where children can follow their own ideas
  • Allow it to be mixed up and moved
  • Can’t possibly allow play dough in the home corner because of a new carpet? Then look to pop a cooker next to the play dough table instead!

How can we meet the learning styles of individual children? What can WE do more

This is all part of our Curiosity Approach pedagogy and what we discuss in the academy 

Want to learn more? We have a resource about schemas. It opens into a A2 poster, enabling you to place in a frame and display on your wall for parents, carers and colleagues to read ! Cost £9.25 https://www.thecuriosityapproach.com/.../issue-03-schemas

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TheCuriosityApproach2022 Written by Stephanie Bennett