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Schemas

As practitioners of young children it is good practice to be aware of the ways different children learn.

Schemas are patterns of repeatable behaviour which can often be noticed in young children's play. Some easily identifiable schemas are:

SchemaDescription of possible behaviours
TransportingA child may carry all the bricks from one place to another in a bag, the sand from the tray to the home corner in a bucket, push a friend around in a toy pram.
EnvelopingA child may cover themselves in a flannel when washing, wrap dolls and toys up in blankets and fabric, cover their painting with one colour.
Enclosure/containingA child may put their thumb in and out of their mouth, fill up and empty containers of all kinds, climb into large cartons, sit in the tunnel, build 'cages' with blocks.
Trajectory;Diagonal/vertical/horizontalA child may gaze at your face, drop things from their cot, make arcs in their spilt food with their hand, play with the running water in the bathroom, climb up and jump off furniture, line up the cars, bounce and kick balls, throw.
RotationA child may be fascinated by the spinning washing machine, love anything with wheels, roll down a hill, enjoy spinning round or being swung around.
ConnectionA child may distribute and collect objects to and from a practitioner, spend time joining the train tracks together, stick the masking tape form across form the table to the chair.
PositioningA child may put things on their head, prefer their custard next to their sponge not over it, lie on the floor or under the table.
TransformingA child may add juice to their mashed potato, sand to the water tray, enjoy adding colour to cornflour or making dough.


Although children often show particular schemas in their play, not all children appear especially schematic. Some show one particular schema particularly strongly and others show several at once.
Sometimes one schema which has been particularly strong will seem to fade, possibly to be replaced by another. Schemas offer a key to understanding ways in which children behave. In the planning process, awareness of children's schemas can be invaluable in matching curriculum content with children's interests and needs.

Children whose play is particularly schematic may have particular preferences in the setting for activities and resources:

SchemaChild's preferences
Connection (joining)Train trackConstructionStringSellotape
Enveloping (covering, surrounding)DensThings in boxesEnvelopesDressing upWrapping 'presents'
Rotation (circles)Circle gamesWheelsRoundaboutsSpinning topsKaleidoscopes
Trajectory (straight lines)Throwing gamesWoodworkPercussionFootballPlaying with running water
Transporting (moving things)Shopping bagsBuggiesTrailers
 ConnectionEnveloping and enclosureRotationTransportingTrajectory
CookingSequence in recipesPicnic foodSandwiches, mince pies, pasties, stuffingsPutting things awayStirring, whisking, mixing, washingLiquidiserRolling out pastryShopping for ingredientsTaking things to oven or fridgeGiving out foodPopcornChopping
Sand (wet)Pipes TunnelsSandcastlesFilling thingsBurying treasure and objectsTunnellingArchimedes screwSand in buckets and trucksDigging
Sand (dry)Funnels and bottlesFilling bags and socksFilling pipesCollecting in yogurt potsPipes, funnelsSand wheelSprinklerPipesGutteringTrucksTrailsThings with holesPipesGuttering
WaterPipesHosesBridgesWashing thingsFilling up bottlesPipes and funnelsMaking boatsBlow bubblesCircular sewingPom-pomsHose pipes and tubingPouringGutteringThings with holesBubblesPumpsSpraysSqueezy bottles
FabricSawingThreadingWeavingKnittingMaking bagsTaking turns SewingKnittingWeaving
Role-playFilling handbagsArranging furniture, cushions, bricks etcFilling bagsDressing upDolls in cots, pramsDressing dollsBlankets over tables Playing post people/milk people'Moving house'Pulling toys on stringAppropriate ways of running, throwing, kicking in role
Small worldTrain trackPeopleCars LayoutsAnimals  Cars and tractorsTrains CollectionsLayoutsCars and ramps
ComputerLoadingWord processingPrintingSymmetry SequencingMaking patternsPrinting workPressing buttons
Games and puzzlesDominoesJigsawsMatching and tessellating gamesMagnetic fishingFeely boxesLottoTurn-takingIncy wincy spiderNumber topWhisper gamesSnakes and laddersLudoThrowing diceSnakes and ladders
 ConnectionEnveloping and enclosureRotationTransportingTrajectory
PaintPatternsSymmetryBorders for picturesBubble paintingCovering paintingsMixing paintFinger paintingPaint rollersMarble paintingCarrying paint/water to objectSpray and splatter paintingBlow painting Squeezy bottle
WorkshopSellotape, string, boxes, glue, junk modelling, kites, threadingMasks, hats,Wrapping up, crowns, tapePutting things in boxesPapier macheMaking containers or vehiclesMaking containers or vehiclesPaper aeroplanesToy parachutesElastic bandCatapults
BooksMaking booksOpening and closing booksRepetitive stories and rhymesGoing to library, taking books to special places 
GraphicsSymmetryCalendarsEnvelopesWriting in little booksLetter boxesRound paperSpirographSending and receiving letters, parcels and messagesRulersDrawing/ writing about cars, planes.
Small constructionMarble runPutting awayHouses for thingsCog wheelsModels with wheelsBuilding and demolishing towers, marble run
Large constructionBricks and blocksBurying thingsHouses for thingsCog wheelsModels with wheelsMaking rockets, fast trains
Outdoor playMaking up gamesCircle gamesGardeningParachute gamesObstacle coursesHose pipesBurying thingsHiding in or underTents, densHide and seekParachutesPlaying in boxes and boatsSprinklerSkipping Hoops, quoitsRolling tyres down hillWheeled toysCircular obstacle courseTrucks for collecting and carryingRoad gamesSuitcaseMoving equipmentWatering - pipes and cansFlags, netsRunning, hitting, throwing and aiming gamesBalls, bats, skittles
Music and soundPercussionHeadphonesRecord playerRounds, chantsRing gamesTaping musicListening and imitatingPercussion
MalleableConnecting modellingModels with things insideCovering pies and cakesMixing doughRollingMaking ballsDough to ovenCarrying cakes in egg boxesGarlic crushHammering and throwing clay
WoodworkNails, nuts, bolts; wood to hammer DrillViceMaking things with wheelsHammeringSawing
InvestigationElectric circuitsPulleys Pipes and plumbingMicroscopeBinocularsBottles, collectionsSeeds and bulbsGiro scopeCogsPulleysWheelsSpinning topsKaleidoscopesCollectionsPulleysSnail trailsCatapultsPulleysRotatorsReflection
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