Schemas and Patterns of Play

June 24, 2019

We all know how much young children love to play! However, we often underestimate how important play is to their basic learning.

We frequently see children showing repetitive behaviour in their play, which we call ‘schematic play’ – schematic play is fascinating and incredibly informative and we call these individual actions ‘schemas’.

If you can learn to identify schema, and really understand what motivate children to learn, you can then provide the very best play opportunities for them. Schemas are often described as children’s fascinations and sometimes the actions may seem a little strange or even irritating to adults, but to the child, it’s a necessary step in their understanding of the world and themselves. Each child is different, and some may display more than one schema while others show none at all.

Here are some of the most common schema:

  • Trajectory– creating lines in space by climbing up and jumping down. Dropping items from up high.
  • Positioning– lining items up and putting them in groups.
  • Enveloping– covering themselves or objects completely. Wrapping items up or placing them in containers.
  • Rotating– enjoys spinning items round and round. Likes to run around in circles or being swung round.
  • Enclosing– adding boundaries to play areas e.g. fences around animals. Adding borders to pictures.
  • Transporting– carrying or moving items from one place to another; carrying items in containers or bags.
  • Connecting– setting out and dismantling tracks, constructing, joining items together with tape or glue.

Schemas also continue on into adulthood and you may even be able to spot some of your own! Activities such as playing a musical instrument, rock climbing and swimming are all examples of schemas; even tidying up at the end of the day is schema driven behaviour.

Learning at Home

Here are some ideas of what you could provide to support your child’s schema:

  • Trajectory– If your child has a trajectory schema you might like to: provide soft balls to throw and roll; ♣ blow bubbles to be caught; ♣ allow them to play on slide and bike or; ♣ give opportunities to pour water.
  • Positioning– You could provide: collage materials for gluing ♣ objects for sorting ♣ objects with the same characteristics e.g. coloured matchsticks ♣ peg boards to create patterns
  • Enveloping– You could provide: blankets to wrap dolls and themselves in; ♣ dressing up clothes; ♣ paper and newspaper to make parcels or; ♣ to be allowed to paint themselves.
  • Rotating– You could provide: bikes, cars and toys with wheels; ♣ mixing and stirring activities; ♣ pens, paints, chalks for drawing circles; ♣ windmills;
  • Enclosing– You could provide: pots with things they can fill them with; ♣ containers to fill in the bath or sink; ♣ dry play, such as pasta and pots to fill or; ♣ boxes or tents to go in
  • Transporting– You could provide: a collection of bags and boxes; ♣ pushchairs and trucks or; ♣ pasta and other items to transport.
  • Connecting– You could provide: tow trucks and cars, train sets; ♣ beads for jewelry making ; ♣ string, wool, lengths of fabric; ♣ construction blocks or; ♣ masking tapes and boxes

Schemas are fascinating! Providing opportunities to develop schemas not only supports child development but also lays important foundations for positive child to caregiver interaction. Schemas are also potentially complicated – especially when thinking about how they may relate to the different aspects of the child’s life.  But for children, schemas are playful and often joyful and it is important that as adults we remember to be playful too! Why not give some thought to this over the weekend? Observe your child’s play and get playful with them yourself – you may well be surprised by just how much your child is learning.