Up, Down, Side to Side

Those who spend enough time with young children will notice that they may develop certain patterns of behaviour, repeated actions and movements. This could be anything from stacking building blocks as high as possible before knocking them down again, or transporting toys or objects from one side of the room to another. We will probably ask ourselves why they seem so fixated on repeating a particular action again and again.

Such behaviour has been identified and named by Athey (1990) as ‘schemas’ – ‘patterns of repeatable actions that lead to early categories’ such as the ‘dynamic vertical’ and ‘dynamic back and forth/side to side’ schemas. We can see these patterns in children’s mark-making and drawing as well as through play and language. It is these two particular schemas of up, down (vertical) and side to side that we wanted to focus on and accommodate within November’s session of Mini Art Club.

When we devise such sessions for young children, we always try to anticipate these patterns of behaviour and consider a child’s experience of the session from the minute they begin to explore the building and gallery spaces, right through to their encounters with art, materials and installation spaces in our studios. In our ‘Up, Down, Side to Side’ session we firstly invited families to think about their journeys and actions through different spaces, from moving up and down in the lift or carefully climbing up the stairs, to stacking blocks in towers or lines in the interactive Clore Art Studio.

Later on we encouraged freedom to explore and master the technique of mark-making with long roller brushes, tiny toy cars and paint as children moved around obstacles in a mini ‘city’ set-up along the floor. A child visiting for the first time may also need to build confidence to enter a mysterious, darkened sensory space before beginning to move back and forth along taped floor ‘lines’, through swathes of suspended fabric or simply through encountering new and interesting sensory materials laid out within the installation.

The biggest learning experience isn’t always for the children too. It’s simply for the adult to remember what it’s like to be that small person they’re accompanying and release their own inner child too. It’s a delicate balance of knowing when to let go and when to understand, respect, support and work with all of our particular patterns of behaviour!

Michiko Fujii, November 2014