What is the meaning of the scheme

Schemas (early childhood education)

Sabine Hebenstreit-Müller

published on 01/15/2020

In early childhood education, schemes are the recurring behavior patterns of children.


  1. 1. Summary
  2. 2 schemes in child learning processes
  3. 3 clusters and concepts
  4. 4 assimilation and accommodation
  5. 5 elementary educational experiences
  6. 6 Affective Aspects of Schemas
  7. Observe 7 schemes
  8. 8 Multiple perspectives
  9. 9 Free play and a stimulating environment
  10. 10 role of educators
  11. 11 Make self-education processes visible
  12. 12 Linguistic support
  13. 13 Develop a common language with parents
  14. 14 References

1. Summary

Children learn through their own actions, through repetitive actions that follow certain “patterns”. The developmental psychologist Jean Piaget called such recurring behavior patterns “schemata” and understands them to be the basic building blocks of human knowledge. Lines, connecting, concealing and enveloping, rotation, layering, sorting or transporting can be schemes that help children build their cognitive structures and form a picture of the world for themselves (Piaget 1979). Thanks in particular to Chris Athey (2007) the further development of a schema theory, which also emphasizes its importance for educational work with young children. In addition to Piaget, references to different theoretical and conceptual approaches (Vygotskij, Montessori, Froebel etc.) as well as current findings from development / & ZeroWidthSpace; psychology are made.

2 schemes in child learning processes

Children do strange things sometimes. They turn in a circle until they get dizzy ("Rotation" scheme), keep piling cans on top of each other until the tower collapses ("Layers" scheme), "misuse" toilet paper by wrapping it around chairs or tables ( Scheme “wrapping”), persistently carry objects from one room to the other (scheme “transport”) or lay whatever they find in long rows (scheme “lines”). Such schemes serve, as it were, as a template or template for an action with which one can act in the same way without thinking.

The list of possible patterns for children is long (Edelmann 2008, p. 30 ff .; Saumweber 2014; Kinder- und Familienzentrum Schillerstraße 2013, appendix). Whenever a particular behavior pattern can be observed repeatedly and over a long period of time, it may be a pattern of action. Accordingly, more and more schemes can be identified and added to the list. Nevertheless, there are a number of schemes that can be observed particularly frequently, such as those already mentioned above.

The schema theory is based on the assumption that children open up the world through active action. Children learn from what they do. Bruce (2005) differentiates between four different levels of experience and knowledge, which follow one another and increasingly interlock (ibid., Pp. 72–74).

These can be specified using the example of the "Transport" scheme:

  • Sensorimotor - Children have sensorimotor experiences when transporting objects by filling bags and carrying them from one place to another or by pushing small cars back and forth.
  • Symbolic - Items can stand for something else, building blocks for cars or packages that are being delivered.
  • cause and effect - experiments with different toys, new combinations; the building blocks (= packages) can be piled on top of each other in order to test what they can carry during transport without everything falling down
  • Abstract-operational - the children can explain what they are doing to others and express their thoughts in language.

Repetition and practice are critical to developing schemes and skills. In free play, the children repeatedly explore opportunities to apply their schemes and need their own time to do so. New experiences are integrated into existing schemes and these are expanded.

A distinction can be made between dynamic and figurative schemes. Schemes of action such as connecting, separating, lines, circles, points, enclosing or rotation flow into figurative schemes in children's drawings and in the development of written language (Athey 2007).

3 clusters and concepts

First of all, schemes represent simple doing and thinking. Every scheme, e.g. sucking or grasping, has a tendency to repeat. As the child develops and experiences, more schemes are developed and an increasingly complex system emerges. “The cluster formation leads the children's thinking to larger and more complex ideas, for example to think about signs as representations of things” (Meade and Cubey 2008, p. 135 translation by H.-M.). This requires the testing and application of schemes in different situations and contexts. Stir the dough with the mixer, turn around your own axis, make circular hand movements, all of these are experiences that enrich the “rotation” scheme and contribute to the formation of clusters up to the formation of abstract concepts and the emergence of concepts.

Arnold (2003, p. 101 f.) Describes how her grandson Harry extends rows of different vehicles with trailers, connects vehicles with one another, grapples with who has birthday one after the other, compares wound and untangled yarn or the height of pens with one another. At this point she quotes Athey (1990), who points out that "the linear measurement requires the coordination of three earlier schemes, a given distance between two endpoints, the connection of standard units and number" (Athey in Arnold 2003, p. 103 ).

From the comparison of objects of different lengths or heights, the use of their own hand to measure distances, and the laying of different amounts of stones, concepts of size and number can emerge with which the child can operate in different contexts.

The emergence of the “animals” concept provides a simple example. At first, everything that moves is “woof” for the child. Then this is differentiated into animals on two or four legs, animals that make “moo” or “meow”, birds that can fly and those that crawl on the ground. At some point the concept "animals" emerges from this, which includes all of this.

4 assimilation and accommodation

A child who has learned to grasp round building blocks or small balls has applied his grasping scheme to these objects. It assimilated by placing the new experiences into an existing cognitive scheme. However, if it wants to grab an egg, it has to adapt its scheme to the object if it is not to break, i.e. it has to accommodate.

Piaget (1995, p. 21 ff.) Assumes that assimilation and accommodation are forms of adaptation (adaptation) of the individual to his environment. Living organisms strive for a balance (equilibrium) between assimilation and accommodation. A child tries to suck on a building block. This is supported by assimilation when the building block appears similar to an edible object. However, since the building block does not contain any food, assimilation is not enough to cope with this situation. The child now has to accommodate, as the situation cannot be dealt with with the existing schemes. Its scheme is expanded by learning that solid objects made of wood are not food. The cognitive structures are adjusted so that they are useful again for problem solving in the future. If this balance is disturbed by things that cannot be appropriated in the tried and tested way, new adaptations are required. A frequently cited example in this context is that of Linus and the biscuit from the comic strip Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz: In this example, Linus first tries to assimilate by trying to handle the biscuit as he is used to with bread: One Slices of bread can be bent. After a few unsuccessful attempts, he accommodates: a biscuit cannot be equated with bread. While both are edible and baked goods, there are differences. A biscuit is different from a slice of bread - the existing scheme must be expanded (accommodation), as it is not enough. Linus: “I've learned something. - Even with the greatest effort, you won't get a biscuit bent! "

For pedagogical work, with a view to assimilation and accommodation processes, the challenge is to offer the child as diverse a range of possibilities as possible, to try out their schemes on different objects and in different situations and to find out through targeted observation when opportunities are needed to accommodate, i.e. to expand its scheme.

5 elementary educational experiences

Without one's own sensory experiences, ideas and terms remain “empty”. Viewing pictures in picture books is no substitute here. “A child may have a pictorial idea of ​​an airplane, but only when the child perceives what an airplane is doing is it possible to distinguish it from other objects such as a car or a truck” (Siraj-Blatchford and Brock 2016, p . 10). Children also want to touch and grasp the objects they see. You want to experience on your own body what harmony and balance feel like and need your own intuition to grasp vertical and horizontal lines.

Children who line up objects according to quantity, weight, color or size, who create patterns from colored cubes or who balance their own weight and that of others on the seesaw, practice their schemes and acquire basic mathematical or physical precursor skills (Lehmann et al. 2006).

In SchemaPlay (since the translation in Schema Spiel can have different connotations in German, the English term "SchemaPlay" formulated by Blatchford and others) is used here) children have elementary experiences in all areas of education such as music, movement, visual design, language, basic mathematical and scientific-technical experience. “On the trail of childlike behavior patterns”, the schemes, Sibylle Haas (2006) illustrates the connections between body perception, basic physical experiences and artistic expression - and draws parallels to modern art. The Christo couple envelops the entire Reichstag, Yves Klein hides sponges, stones and roots under a layer of blue paint. Or let's think of the “Bauhaus” and its aesthetics that have been reduced to elementary basic shapes and colors. Schemas are on the one hand an expression of cognitive development, but at the same time they are also the design principles of modern art. Children and artists have a lot in common here.

6 Affective Aspects of Schemas

Piaget made a distinction between cognitive and affective schemata. However, he emphasizes that there are no affective schemas in the same sense as cognitive ones. This would mean a dichotomy and the term “scheme” - as he thinks - improperly expand. “In reality,” says Piaget, “there are both person-related and object-related patterns of behavior. These schemata are both cognitive and affective at the same time ”(Piaget 1995, p. 94). Correspondingly, looking at the affective side of schemata enables a better and at the same time more complex understanding of child behavior. There is no doing that is not accompanied by emotions.

With reference to the psychoanalytically founded attachment theory (Bowlby and Ainsworth 2005), the team at the Pen Green Center in Corby tries to grasp the affective dimensions of schemata. Using case studies, Arnold explains possible motives for the behavior of the children who correspond to their respective schemes of action (Arnold and PEN Green Team 2011). At the same time, by closely observing the children, it is important to find out how action schemes can help young children cope with emotional events. And vice versa: how emotions can "drive" cognitive development. For example, schemes such as “connecting”, “separating”, “enveloping”, “transporting” or “positioning” can offer children forms of expression to actively grasp and cognitively cope with situations of separation and farewell or to depict friendship and family relationships.

Observe 7 schemes

Every child develops certain schemes in their own time. Observing and recognizing these is an essential educational task that enables the child to have the necessary resources and a stimulating environment available so that he can apply and expand his schemata in other contexts.

In the Early Excellence Approach (EEC) (Hebenstreit-Müller 2018a), schema observations play a special role as part of a resource-oriented observation procedure that aims to discover the strengths and potential of children (Hebenstreit-Müller 2018b).

Schemas can best be perceived in the free play of the children, especially when they are completely with themselves and with the matter. These are the moments when they form and develop. The Leuven engagement scale (Hebenstreit-Müller 2016, 2019), with its focus on well-being and commitment, offers an important addition to identify the relevance of a scheme for children.

Arnold's systematization can prove to be helpful in assigning behaviors of children to schemes. Arnold lists 41 schemes, naming and defining the schemes and illustrating each one with an example. The “lines” scheme is defined as “moving in straight lines, arcs or curves or depicting them”. This is illustrated by the example: “L. pushed a stroller in a straight line. C. drove his tricycle in a straight line and lined up toy cars one behind the other ”(Arnold quoted in Edelmann 2008, p. 30).

8 Multiple perspectives

It is advisable if several specialists observe a child and then exchange information in the team on the basis of documentation (observation sheets, photos, videos). By observing from different perspectives, a rich and varied picture of the child can emerge, which makes his interests and current schemata clear. Further questions can be: Does the institution offer sufficient suggestions to support the child / children’s SchemaPlay? Is there enough material available for creative design? How can the actions of the child / children be accompanied by language?

In the Early Excellence approach, observation is followed by the development of an individual offer that is linked to the interests of the child, as can be seen from their actions. It is rather "unspectacular" and integrated into everyday life, such as weaving a doily on a loom. (For the observation procedure using the example of a child, see Hebenstreit-Müller 2013, p. 16 ff.). Such offers offer the opportunity to give the child feedback on the observations and to make plausible why and what they are useful for: in order to be able to respond more precisely to their inclinations, needs and preferences. Observations also offer a special form of appreciation - especially since the educator can devote himself / herself entirely to one child during this time.

It goes without saying that observations are more accurate and correct the more knowledge and experience with schemes the observers have gained. The opportunity to share your own knowledge with others is an important factor in increasing the quality of observation in the team. The more we know about schemes, the sooner we are able to perceive them. In this respect, knowledge and observation are in a constant reciprocal relationship.

9 Free play and a stimulating environment

Children need free play time to develop and coordinate their schemes. Schemas cannot be taught or taught. What is needed is a stimulating environment that supports SchemaPlay. A monotonous environment, toys that only have one function or rooms that cannot be remodeled do not stimulate children's imagination and creativity.

If the focus is on the activities of the children, the way in which they deal with lines, scattering, blobs, enveloping, filling in or positioning, this also has consequences for the design of the environment, the material that is offered. The simple things, found objects, utensils that find inventive use are attractive.These can be branches, leaves, stones, lumps of earth, cotton balls, empty cans or toilet paper as well as large cardboard boxes or blankets and towels to cover and hide - all these substances and materials that are temporarily in use and can then be replaced by others. Here there are many opportunities for children to participate in the collection and selection of objects, sorting and positioning them in space.

Meade and Cubey point out, “Time to play is very important. It is central to raising children. However, the game is not the only means by which they learn. They learn by imitating role models and by participating in everyday experiences at home and in the community ”(Meade and Cubey 2008, p. 45, translation by H.H.M.). It is an important educational task, opportunities together to play and learn, use and actively produce.

10 role of educators

From a pedagogical-psychological point of view, it is important that learners first interpret new things against the background of what they already know. There would be no reason to question and expand previous knowledge if it were not challenged.

"The goal of educators is," say Meade and Cubey, "to help children:

  • recognize the connection between the new experience and their previous knowledge;
  • try out additional aspects of a scheme or concept;
  • to build up shared knowledge in social situations;
  • To arouse interest in the relevance of new experiences and thus
  • to help transfer the concept from short-term to long-term memory ”(Meade and Cubey 2008, p. 9 f., translation by H.H.-M.).

The educational specialist not only has the function of observing and documenting children's behavior patterns. Rather, it should be able to support the child if necessary and encourage them to continue playing in the zone of next possible development (Vygotskij 1985).

The role of the pedagogical specialist is best described as a mediator, i.e. someone who mediates between the exploratory learning of the child, his / her interests and wishes as well as the possibilities and opportunities, this through suitable materials, impulses and suggestions as well as linguistic support to support. Meade and Cubey suggest the metaphor of "dance":

“We have found that perceiving and recognizing children's schemes gives educators different and useful knowledge about what children contribute to new learning experiences about the material world and about written symbols. This approach helps educators and learners to improve their ability to 'dance' together ”(Meade and Cubey 2008, p. 151, translation: S. H.-M.).

11 Make self-education processes visible

An interesting aspect of schemes is that with their help, self-education processes can be directly experienced and made visible by children. Early childhood education is constantly faced with the challenge of making clear what constitutes “education” in “self-education”. The schema theory can make a not insignificant contribution here by emphasizing the fundamental importance of behavior patterns acquired early on for cognitive and emotional development and these are concretely perceptible in the actions of the children.

Learning can be illustrated by establishing a connection between schemes and the various educational areas (see Chapter 5). The so-called PLOD (Possible Lines of Direction) or learning group, which was adopted by the Pen Green Center in Corby when developing the EEC approach, has proven to be helpful (Hebenstreit-Müller 2013, p. 33). The learning group focuses on the child and assigns its activities to the individual educational areas in the form of schemes. This illustrates the way in which activities such as folding envelopes, building a teepee, baking cakes, cutting and gluing together paper figures or building with wooden blocks address essential educational areas.

However, the learning group “lives” from the reasons and arguments for the respective allocation decisions. Talking about this in a team and with parents is an essential professional task and a permanent challenge. Here, too, the greater the knowledge about elementary learning in the individual educational areas, the easier it can be observed in the children and then analyzed.

12 Linguistic support

Children benefit when everyday situations are used for language education. One topic that children love to talk about is what they are doing. They like it when adults are interested in their projects and works. To accompany the action verbally, to give the child words in order to be able to understand more precisely what it is doing, to look for explanations and contexts of meaning, all of this supports the child's cognitive development and promotes its entry into the “space of reasons” (Hildebrandt und Musholt 2018). It must be assumed that the adults have a feeling for finding the right time for this and not interrupting the child when they are so absorbed in their game that they do not want to react to offers of conversation. Pedagogical professionals need the skills to think together with children, as they do for sustained shared thinking (Hebenstreit-Müller 2018d, p. 19 f.). Open questions about why, when and how or the formulation of hypotheses enable dialogues that allow the child to discover similarities and differences, modes of operation and if-then relationships. Thinking needs language.

It is important to distinguish between form and content. Usually, impulses from adults are focused on content, which means that the perception of the form and thus the understanding of structures can take a back seat. The following case study from a day-care center shows how a pedagogical professional can support the perception of similarities in form:

A girl asks the educator to look at how she wiggles a colored pencil back and forth in a circle. The educator expresses his interest by pointing out the turning movement: “You let the pen circle. It rotates properly. ”Shortly afterwards the girl in the picture book shows him a cement mixer and the educator comments:“ You have found something that rotates again. Can you imagine other things rotating? ”“ Yes, a mixer ”.

Children need diverse spaces of experience in order to grasp their world. In order to become aware of their actions and their emotions in order to be able to communicate with others, they need language. It is the responsibility of the adults to create the conditions for this, to use language opportunities and to enter into a dialogue with the child.

13 Develop a common language with parents

Parents are the first and most important caregivers of their children. Parents know the children's preferences, know what they like to eat best, which cuddly toy they need when, when they can crawl for the first time, stand on both feet, run and speak their first word. Pedagogical professionals can support and accompany children all the more specifically and better if they cooperate with parents and engage in a mutual exchange. This can only succeed if educators actively inquire about parental competence and incorporate it into everyday pedagogical work so that parents can contribute their knowledge and experience. A complex and more precise picture of the child's developmental processes can only be created by linking the information from parents and educational specialists.

The essential condition for this is the development of a “common language”. Understanding about common pedagogical perspectives opens up opportunities for equal exchange. Expert knowledge and the experience of the parents in relation to their child are of equal value in such a dialogue.

Schemas are a good foundation for working with parents. Parents usually understand schemes very quickly and can apply them to their children's activities. This enables an exchange with the educators, which we can ideally think of as a spiral process: the parents observe their child at home, educators observe in the facility and exchange ideas together (Hebenstreit-Müller 2018c, p . 307).

Arnold gives examples of pattern observations by the parents: “Matthew's mother: Everything becomes as clear as if a curtain had opened, now I know that his behavior pattern is that of straight 'lines', I can now' understand him much better ', and about her sister Amy: She is a' transporter '- I always find that she discovers new ways of carrying things to kindergarten - a sling for her doll and a bike that she can ride ”(Arnold 2008, p. 77). Supplemented by observations by the educator, the questions can be pursued as to how the child can be further stimulated and supported in his schema play in the facility and at home.

With the help of schema observations, the child's activities can appear in a different light, which opens up a different perspective on their child for parents in particular. What was previously perceived as annoying and annoying - when children, for example, always connect chairs with ropes, sort cutlery according to shape and size or put them in rows, move around like spinning tops - takes on new meaning and meaning. It is about elementary learning and educational experiences of the child. Perceiving and understanding your child from this perspective also changes the relationship between parents and children. Anger and worry often turn into joy or pride.

14 References

Arnold, Cath, 2003. Observing Harry: Child Development and Learning 0-5. Maidenhead: Open University Press. ISBN 978-0-335-21301-6

Arnold, Cath, 2008. Sharing with parents about key concepts in child development. In: Margy Whalley and the Pen Green Team, eds. Parents as experts in their children: The “Early Excellence” model in children's and family centers. Berlin: Dohrmann Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938620-07-6 [review at socialnet]

Arnold, Cath and PEN Green Team, 2011. Understanding Schemas and Emotion in Early Childhood. London: Sage Publications. ISBN 978-1-84920-165-0

Athey, Chris, 1990. Extending Thought in young Children: A Parent-Teacher Partnership. 1st edition. London: Paul Chapman. ISBN 978-1-85396-118-2

Athey, Chris, 2007. Extending Thought in young Children: A Parent-Teacher Partnership. 2nd Edition. London: Paul Chapman. ISBN 978-1-4129-2131-2

Bowlby, John and Mary Ainsworth, 2005. Early attachment and child development. Munich: Ernst Reinhardt. ISBN 978-3-497-01770-6

Bruce, Tina, 2005. Early Childhood Education. 3. Edition. London: Hodder Arnold Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4441-1959-6

Edelmann, Katrin, 2008. “Schemas”: early childhood behavior patterns as a starting point for socio-educational action. Norderstedt: GRIN Verlag. ISBN 978-3-640-18325-8

Haas, Sibylle, 2006. On the trail of childlike behavior patterns: On the connection between body perception, basic physical experiences and artistic expression. Special issue of the magazine Betrifft Kinder. Weimar: Verlag das netz ISBN 978-3-937785-50-9

Hebenstreit-Müller, Sabine, 2013. Learning to observe - the early excellence concept. Berlin: Dohrmann. ISBN 978-3-938620-26-7 [review at socialnet]

Hebenstreit-Müller, Sabine, ed., 2016. Observe and Discover Talents - The Importance of Wellbeing and Engagement in Educational Work with Children in Primary School. Berlin: Dohrmann. ISBN 978-3-938620-38-0 [review at socialnet]

Hebenstreit-Müller, Sabine, 2018a. Early Excellence [on-line]. socialnet lexicon. Bonn: socialnet, 02/02/2018 [accessed on: 08/01/2020]. Available at: https://www.socialnet.de/lexikon/​Early-Excellence

Hebenstreit-Müller, Sabine, 2018b. Resource-oriented observation [on-line]. socialnet lexicon. Bonn: socialnet, February 9th, 2018 [accessed on: January 8th, 2020]. Available at: https://www.socialnet.de/lexikon/​Ressourcenorientierte-Beobachtung

Hebenstreit-Müller, Sabine, 2018c. Early Excellence - a concept of professional and quality development. In: Michaela Rißmann, ed. Didactics of childhood education. Basics of early childhood education, Volume 3. 2nd, completely revised edition. Cologne: Carl Link Verlag, pp. 296-312. ISBN 978-3-556-07190-8 [review at socialnet]

Hebenstreit-Müller, Sabine, 2018d. Thinking with children - why self-education is not possible without pedagogical stimulation. In: Sabine Hebenstreit-Müller and Frauke Hildebrandt, eds. Thinking with children - conversations in everyday daycare. Berlin: Dohrmann, pp. 15–32. ISBN 978-3-938620-46-5 [review at socialnet]

Hebenstreit-Müller, Sabine, 2019. Leuven commitment scale [on-line]. socialnet lexicon. Bonn: socialnet, April 23, 2019 [accessed on: January 8, 2020]. Available at: https://www.socialnet.de/lexikon/​Leuvener-Engagiertheitsskala

Hildebrandt, Frauke and Kristina Musholt, 2018. Self-education, training or dialogue: How do children get into the “room of reasons” ?. In Sabine Hebenstreit-Müller and Frauke Hildebrandt, eds. Thinking with children - conversations in everyday daycare. Berlin: Dohrmann Verlag, pp. 33-52. ISBN 978-3-938620-46-5 [review at socialnet]

Children's and Family Center Schillerstraße, 2013. Schemas. In: Sabine Hebenstreit-Müller. Learning to observe - the early excellence concept. Berlin: Dohrmann, pp. 73-90. ISBN 978-3-938620-26-7 [review at socialnet]

Lehmann, Wolfgang, Jeanne Rademacher, Claudia Quaiser-Pohl and Nicole Trautewig, 2006. Much + little, big + small. In: Kindergarten today. 36 (11), pp. 6-14. ISSN 0344-3949

Meade, Anne and Pam Cubey, 2008. Thinking Children: Learning about Schemas. Maidenhead: Open University Press. ISBN 978-0-335-22879-9

Piaget, Jean, 1979. Speaking and thinking of the child. Berlin: Cornelsen Schwann-Girardet ISBN 978-3-590-14101-8

Piaget, Jean, 1995. Intelligence and activity in child development. Frankfurt a.M .: Suhrkamp ISBN 978-3-518-58199-5

Saumweber, Katja, 2014. Schemas in the Early Excellence approach. Berlin: Heinz and Heide Dürr Foundation

Siraj-Blatchford, John and Lynnette Brock, 2016. Putting the Schema back into Schema Theory and Practice: An Introduction to SchemaPlay. Dorset: SchemaPlay Publications. ISBN 978-0-9957626-0-2

Vygotskij, Lev Semenovič, 1985. selected Writings. Volume 1. Cologne: Pahl-Rugenstein. ISBN 978-3-7609-0973-8

Prof. Dr. Sabine Hebenstreit-Müller
Honorary professor at the University of Halle-Wittenberg, qualified pedagogue, currently active as an organizational consultant, evaluator, trainer;
until July 2017 director of the Pestalozzi-Froebel-Haus in Berlin;
previously worked as head of the Office for Social Services East and youth welfare office manager in Bremen; Head of the Family Division at the Research Institute Woman and Society in Hanover; Teacher at primary and secondary schools with a focus on art education
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Hebenstreit-Müller, Sabine, 2020. Schemas (early childhood education) [on-line]. socialnet lexicon. Bonn: socialnet, January 15, 2020 [accessed on: May 24, 2021]. Available at: https://www.socialnet.de/lexikon/Schemata-Fruehpaedagogik

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