There are many different theories and concepts that idealise the behaviour and development of children. The notion of schemas, as they relate to early childhood development, originated with psychologist Jean Piaget. Piaget's theories on cognitive development are recognised as cornerstones in the field of psychiatry.
During the early 1900s, most scholars believed that the minds of children were just miniature replicas of the adult mind and therefore utilised the same thought processes. Piaget disagreed with this notion and sought to examine the developmental processes of the minds of children while creating child intelligence tests in 1920.
Schemas are concepts built in the mind based on conclusions drawn from our experiences. As they relate to the complexity of the mind, schemas are the basic level. A good example of an early childhood schema is how children learn about gravity and distance. Children usually acquire this information by repeatedly tossing objects onto the floor from their cribs or high chairs. They later use this schema to assist them when taking their first steps. Piaget called these processes assimilation and accommodation.
According to Piaget's theory, assimilation refers to an interpretation of a new experience. Bhattacharya and Han of the University of Georgia cite the example of a child who sees her baby picture for the first time. When first seeing the picture, a child may only recognise that picture as a baby, but when that child is told that she is the baby, the child incorporates this information and begins to recognise the picture as her baby picture.
Accommodation refers to the adjustment of information previously stored to meet the particulars of new and different situations. Referring again to the example presented by Bhattacharya and Han, the child begins to understand that pictures must capture moments of the past, because she can't be at two places at one time.
Schemas provide children with the ability to learn about the world at their own pace. The schemas developed in childhood are built upon and integrated into our adult lives.
- Psychology, David G. Myers, 2007