The ZPDF diagram illustrates both the child’s and the adult’s cognitive process and their interaction. Our reading of the evidence currently available suggests strongly that these interactions should be limited, well prepared, highly focused and informed by observations of the individual child’s play. The evidence suggests that relationship between play and instruction should not be considered in terms of any form of ‘balance’, they should be understood as being in ‘synergy’.
The child’s free-flow play is represented in the central cycle, as an interaction between the child’s cognitive schemes and schema. This is what van Oers (1999) described as a process that Vygotsky understood as ‘progressive continuous re-contextualisation’. Piaget called it ‘assimilation’. The activity space contained by the cycle is referred to as the Zone of Proximal Developmental Flow (ZPDF) because it is analogous to that provided through adult scaffolding in Vygotsky’s (1962) zone of proximal development (ZPD), except that in this case it is the child’s own recall of previously observed (or formally introduced) cognitive schemes and schema that are being applied in scaffolding their play (there is no immediate adult involved in providing the scaffolding). ‘Flow’ was first identified as a quality of play associated with enhanced periods of learning and creativity by Csikszentmihalyi’s (1979). Bruce (1991) and Laevers’ (1993) applied the phrase ‘Free Flow Play’, and defined it in terms of the complete immersion, involvement and the sense of fulfilment that children gained from it.
Free flow play may be considered ‘seeded’ by the child’s prior learning of a scheme or schema. This may have occurred through the child’s observation and imitation of others or through direct instruction, but it is important to recognise that the child’s learning will remain incomplete if they are not provided with the opportunity to play with the new ideas, to identify the strengths and limitations of the schemes and schemas, and to own them for themselves. This is what we mean when we say that learning is essentially a creative and child centred process. ‘Free Flow Play’ is an integrating mechanism, which brings together what the child has previously learn, knows, feels and understands (Tina Bruce, 1997). More about this can be found in the SchemaPlay booklet: Putting the Schema back into Schema Theory and Practice: An Introduction to SchemaPlay