From a distance it might seem random, but children often use the same patterns of behaviour and play to learn many different skills. My friend Sara from Mind your Mamma knows a lot about this topic and has thought of five great questions to ask parents that will help you figure out the perfect gift to buy.
Ask Sara's questions next time you have a birthday coming up - used alongside our How to Buy the Perfect Gift guides you might never have to worry about your gift choice again!
At the end of this year, my nephew and niece will turn 4 and 1, respectively. We live in different countries, and I only get to see them about twice a year. So I’ll inevitably find myself asking my brother to give me some clues as to what they like – after all, I’m their only aunt, and I want to give them something they’ll use and enjoy.
Thankfully, having 3 children of my own, and being slightly obsessed with learning new things, in my time as a mum I’ve come across the concept of schemas.
Schemas are patterns of repeated behaviour, so if you had to observe a child in the comfort of their own home (as a parent would do), you’d start to notice these patterns. You’d start to see, from a very early age, that a child likes a particular action (or a series of them), and they will repeat those actions with several of their toys or objects they interact with. Because it’s through those very instinctive actions that they make sense of the world around them, and effectively, learn.
It’s really fascinating, and there is lots to learn on this subject. But just asking a few simple questions will help me to get the right gift for my nephew and niece, which will make me the popular aunt I want to be!
(Or is it just me who wants to be popular with their nephews and nieces?!)
So without further ado, what are the right questions to ask?
Here’s the very popular trajectory schema. It drives parents insane, but pretty much all babies at some point engage in marathons of dropping (or throwing) food from their highchair, don’t they? Well, as annoying as it can be to us parents, they don’t necessarily do it to annoy us – they are experimenting and learning. They just love observing how objects move.
As they grow, you’ll notice their strong preference for throwing things or hitting them (with a racket, a bat or a stick) – ball games will be an absolute favourite of theirs. But it’s not just objects they like to watch move – it’s themselves too, and their parents will most probably tell you that they also love to climb and jump (I’m thinking garden toys here!)
If they do, it’s the transporting schema in action. And what you can observe in children with this preference is that they like to collect and carry things around with them or push them around on something on wheels. A toy stroller, trolley or wheelbarrow will go down like a storm. And if they don’t have anything ‘suitable’ for carrying their things, well, they’ll find other things to load all their precious possessions on and carry around them around the house (I’m thinking small chairs and coffee tables here!)
They might even enjoy packing a small rucksack, freezer bag or carrier bag. The more creative they get in their intent to transport things around, the more you can be sure they’ll enjoy anything that facilitates them in their mission.
Here’s the connecting schema. Young children who engage with this behaviour will show the urge to join and connect things together – think making a train track or joining train carts together. But also building blocks or puzzles. You can impress the child’s parents even further by asking whether their child likes to tie things together with rope, tape, string or ribbon. And do they like building chains out of objects?
Think positioning, ordering and arranging objects, like cars in a line, ready for a race. Some children will be so repetitive in this that they will place particular objects in the same position every time they play – in rows, in lines, on top of other things, to the side etc. As they get older, they can be observed arranging objects in order of size, shape or colour. This is the positioning schema in action.
Who doesn’t like a good den? When a child has a particular preference for covering objects or themselves, hide or collect things and hide them, it’s the enveloping schema in action. Children who experience this urge will be in their element in a pop-up tent or with a nice costume to dress up with.
There are many other schemas - rotation, enclosing and orientation are some of the others that come to mind - but hopefully this will give you a rough idea of how you can use schemas to help you buy better gifts.
If you do get the chance to see the children ‘in action’ next time you visit, try and pay attention to how they behave and how they interact with the objects around them – you should now be able to get an idea of how they like to play and learn.
And hopefully you’ll also be very popular!
This post was contributed by Sara Bussandri.
Sara is a London-based freelance writer who writes for a number of websites - often about pregnancy, birth and the crazy world of parenting. A HuffPostUK contributor, Sara blogs at Mind your Mamma, where she hopes to inspire positive personal and behavioural change. You can connect with Sara on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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