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  /  Child Development   /  What are Schemas in Children’s Play?

What are Schemas in Children’s Play?

Have you noticed that your children repeat the same actions over and over again when they are playing?

Why do they do this and what are they learning from these repeated actions?

Let’s take a look at schemas and discuss some answers.   

What is a Schema?

Schemas are patterns of repeated behaviour that allow children to explore and develop their play through their thoughts and ideas.

As an adult, you can learn about your children’s interests by observing their play. By stepping back and watching, you may notice how apparent some of these schemas are. Some children clearly display schematic play; however, it may be more difficult to recognise the schemas other children are exploring. In the next section, we’ll look at eight of the most common schemas, and I’ll suggest how you can support your children to develop these further.

There are 8 common Schemas:


Children exploring this schema may show an interest in joining things together or tying things up, e.g. connecting train track pieces or Lego. They may enjoy binding things together, like ribbons, wool, string and tape. The ‘connecting’ schema can also lead to disconnecting, e.g. taking or pulling things apart.

How to support this schema:
Offer your children different construction toys, e.g. Duplo, Stickle Bricks and Lego, or try out creative activities with glue or masking tape with materials that can either be bound or glued/taped together, e.g. string, wool, ribbon and strips of paper or fabric.


Children show an interest in creating enclosed spaces for themselves or placing objects; they have an interest in ordering and organising things and spaces.

How to support this schema:
If children are seeking to enclose themselves, hunt out some large cardboard boxes, which they can climb into or use to make tents and dens. If they enjoy enclosing objects, you could provide them with pots, containers and interesting objects to put inside.


Children may be interested in enveloping themselves, objects or space, e.g. wrapping themselves in blankets or curtains! They may enjoy making parcels and putting everyday objects inside.

How to support this schema:
Provide blankets and fabrics so your children can wrap themselves, their teddies or toys. If they enjoy enveloping objects, they may like to use old envelopes or make parcels out of yesterday’s newspaper.


This schema can be related to children who like to see the world from different angles – you may find these children spend a lot of time upside-down, looking through their legs, or turning toys and objects around to look at them from different angles.

How to support this schema:
You could try providing mirrors, magnifying glasses and binoculars. Or support your children on a climbing frame while they hang upside-down!


Children exploring this schema may put objects in lines, sequences and patterns, and will carefully position them. They may enjoy working with small objects, which have a number of pieces.

How to support this schema:
Offer your children multiples of the same type of object, e.g. coloured blocks or trains. Children may have a lot of fun creating patterns with peg board games, or simply provide them with a big box of different objects for them to select and sort.


Children exploring this schema are interested in things that rotate or that are circular, e.g. objects with wheels and spinning tops. You may find they are fascinated by your washing machine!

How to support this schema:

Provide your children with toys on wheels or objects that spin.  They may also enjoy playing with a water wheel in the bath or trying out activities that involve mixing and stirring. 


This is perhaps the most common schema. Children are interested in how they and things move. The most familiar trajectory is repeatedly dropping things from the highchair! They may also love throwing things, running around, or playing with running water.

How to support this schema:

Provide your children with lots of opportunities for outdoor play, let them loose on the swings and slides at your local park, give them softballs to throw and opportunities to pour water.


You may observe your children repeatedly moving things from one place to another, either with their hands, or by using something to contain the object, e.g. a trolley, bag, or doll’s buggy.

How to support this schema:

Provide your children with modes of transport for their objects, e.g. a selection of bags or boxes, as well as items to transport, e.g. pine cones, shells, or other objects you may have collected together on a nature walk.

Final Thoughts on Schemas

You may despair when your children drop something from their highchair for the hundredth time, or when you find that your things have moved from where you last put them. Celebrate their actions, instead! Schemas are a natural part of children’s play and development and help explain why some children show such persistence and determination to do things in a certain way.

By spotting and encouraging patterns in your children’s play, and by offering them more ideas or materials, you are helping your children to learn.


By Penelope Ball