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Schematic play - in the learn to swim world?

Updated: May 25

The Fascinating World of Schematic Play in Swimming Lessons

As a swimming teacher, I've had the privilege of witnessing not just the physical growth of children as they learn to swim, but also their cognitive and psychological development. One of the most intriguing aspects of this development is something called "schematic play." You might wonder how play patterns are relevant in a swimming pool, but let me assure you, they are incredibly significant.

What is Schematic Play?

Schematic play refers to the repeated actions and behaviors that children exhibit as they explore and understand the world around them. These patterns, or schemas, are fundamental to children's learning processes. They help in organising experiences and understanding concepts, which is vital in every stage of development. Schemas are often seen in play and everyday activities, but they are equally present in more structured environments like swimming lessons.

Common Schemas Observed in Swimming Lessons:

In the context of swimming, schemas manifest in several ways. Here are a few that I frequently observe:

1. Trajectory Schema: This involves movement and how objects and bodies move through space. In swimming lessons, you can see this when children delight in jumping into the pool, experimenting with the splash and the distance they can travel. They love running along the edge of the pool and throwing toys into the water to watch the splash and ripples.

2. Rotation Schema: Children are fascinated by things that spin and rotate. In the water, this is evident when they twirl in circles, spin around to make themselves dizzy, or even when they attempt somersaults underwater. The buoyancy of water adds an extra layer of joy and curiosity to these movements.

3. Enclosure Schema: This schema involves creating boundaries and understanding inside and outside concepts. In swimming, children often create enclosures with pool noodles or use their hands to scoop and hold water, marveling at how it slips through their fingers. They might also swim around pool lanes or markers, understanding the concept of inside and outside the defined spaces.

4. Transporting Schema: Kids love to move objects from one place to another. During lessons, they might collect floating toys and transport them across the pool, sometimes with serious concentration and sometimes with playful exuberance. This helps them understand weight, buoyancy, and coordination.

5. Positioning Schema: This schema involves organising objects in particular ways. In the pool, children might line up pool toys along the edge or position themselves in specific spots before diving in. They might also place their hands and feet in exact positions on the pool wall before pushing off to swim.

Why Understanding Schemas is Important

Recognising and understanding these schemas allows us, as swimming teachers, to tailor our lessons to better suit the developmental stages of our young swimmers. It helps us create an environment where learning is intuitive and fun. For instance, if I notice a child is particularly engaged with the trajectory schema, I might incorporate more games that involve jumping and diving, helping them harness their interest into learning new swimming techniques.

Moreover, acknowledging these schemas can also help us in managing behaviors. Understanding that a child repeatedly splashing water is not merely being disruptive but is exploring a trajectory schema can change our approach from one of frustration to one of guidance and support.

Encouraging Schemas Through Swimming Activities

To foster these schemas, I often include activities that align with these natural play patterns. Here are a few examples:

- For Trajectory: Jumping contests, throwing and retrieving toys, and practicing different dive techniques.

- For Rotation: Encouraging underwater somersaults, spinning games, and using flotation devices that allow for rotational movement.

- For Enclosure: Creating small "islands" with flotation devices that children can swim to and from, or playing games that involve swimming through hoops.

- For Transporting: Relay races where children transport objects from one side of the pool to the other.

- For Positioning: Set out some matching games. This could be numbers or colours or shapes.


As a swimming teacher, my goal is not just to teach children how to swim but to nurture their overall development. By understanding and incorporating schematic play into swimming lessons, we can make learning more engaging and effective. So next time you see a child repeatedly jumping into the pool or carefully arranging their pool toys, remember that these are more than just playful antics—they are the building blocks of their cognitive growth and understanding of the world.

Let's embrace these moments and use them to create a more enriching and joyful learning experience for our young swimmers.


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