In the Grand Schema of Things - Artist Blog by Joanna Parkes

The Ark's Early Years Artist in Residence, Joanna Parkes, explains how the travel and training element of her residency introduced her to a new mentor, and the concept of schema when supporting children’s physical development through drama and play.

One of the great advantages of this residency programme is the opportunity to work with a mentor to enhance and deepen one’s practice. My mentor Clare Devlin, an Early Years Educational Consultant, has been very helpful in encouraging me to think of different ways I can adapt my Seedlings Early Years drama workshops to support children’s holistic physical, social and emotional development. When planning workshops in the past I have often thought about how we can explore a social or emotional issue through my workshop such as: trying to help Elliott the Dragon find out what he’s good at (Elliott’s True Talent) or encouraging the King to be happy with what he has and not always be wanting to get new things (The King’s Beautiful Garden).

Since working with Clare, I have also started to think about supporting children’s physical development, including their fine and gross motor skills. Clare also introduced me to the concept of Schema, which are described as patterns of repeated behaviour which allow children to explore and express developing ideas and thoughts through their play and exploration. These repeated actions or behaviours occur naturally in children’s play, and children will be naturally drawn to certain schema which reflect their individual interests and personalities. For example, the Transportation Schema can be observed when children become intent on moving objects from one place to another – either in their hands or using buckets, bags, baskets or trolleys. Examples of the Enveloping Schema may be observed when children are seen to cover, hide, camouflage and conceal themselves such as wrapping themselves in scarves or blankets or making dens and hide-away places. While these behaviours occur naturally in children’s play, it is useful if the adults are aware of them so they can support and encourage this type of physical play– for example by providing bags, baskets, wheelbarrows or trolleys to support the Transportation Schema or by providing cushions and fabric so the children can make dens, as described in the Enveloping Schema.

When I became aware of these different schema, I found that the concepts behind different schema helped to inspire ideas for my drama workshops – for example: The Rotation Schema is observed when children turn, spin, twist, roll, rotate themselves or objects. This idea of spinning, twisting and rotating prompted me to think of the wind and moving like the wind which was the inspiration for the November workshop called Who Loves the Whirly, Swirly Wind? The children became Wind Wizards with their Wind Wizard wands and we made whirling, twirling movements, exploring whether we can move in gentle wind, stronger wind, then in a windy, wintry storm? Can we whirl, swirl, twirl, whoosh and swoosh in the wind?

The October workshop was called Howie the Hedgehog Needs a Home, focused on the Enveloping Schema, which was first demonstrated when the children used shoe-boxes and tissue paper, cotton wool, leaves and fabric to make a winter shelter for Howie the Hedgehog and his friends. Later in the workshop, the children needed to make a physical shelter for themselves so, with some adult help, they used bamboo stakes, rope, string, large pieces of fabric and furniture to make their own dens and shelters which they then crawled into to stay warm and dry from the storm outside. This desire to make dens to hide away and be cosy under fabric or furniture is all linked to the Enveloping Schema.

The Transportation Schema played a central role in the December workshop called Suzy Deezy’s feeling Sneezy, where the children had to help Suzy bring in her shopping in using trolleys, wheel barrows, shopping trolleys and baskets. They then used a rope and pulley system which meant that they could put the shopping into a basket at one end of the room and use the rope and pulley to transport everything to the other end of the room. In this workshop the children were also rolling playdough to make pretend biscuits, which developed their fine motor skills, and they were encouraged to wrap boxes in paper, which is another example of the Enveloping Schema.

I feel this additional focus on exploring these different schemas will continue to be of benefit when I am planning drama workshops in the future, and will hopefully increase the impact and benefit of these drama and play workshops for the children’s overall holistic development.

Joanna Parkes Profile Circle


Joanna has been working in the field of Creative Arts Education as a Drama Facilitator for many years, in many diverse contexts. Primary School education has been the focus of much of her work, and she was one of 6 lead artists chosen for a national research initiative in 2014: Exploring Teacher/ Artist Partnerships. In 2018, she was appointed as a Creative Associate in the Creative Schools initiative led by the Arts Council, in partnership with the Department of Education. Since 2013, her work has had an increased focus on Early Years contexts, including interactive drama and story workshops at the Ark, a commission by glór in Ennis to develop a 6 week Early Years residency and an ongoing collaboration with Joanna Williams (Little Bigtop) to produce performances for Early Years audiences. She recently completed a Masters in Early Childhood Education.