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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 track Construction String Sellotape
Enveloping (covering, surrounding)Dens Things in boxes Envelopes Dressing up Wrapping 'presents'
Rotation (circles)Circle games Wheels Roundabouts Spinning tops Kaleidoscopes
Trajectory (straight lines)Throwing games Woodwork Percussion Football Playing with running water
Transporting (moving things)Shopping bags Buggies Trailer's


ActivityConnectionEnveloping and enclosureRotationTransportingTrajectory
CookingSequence in recipesPicnic food Sandwiches, mince pies, pasties, stuffings Putting things awayStirring, whisking, mixing, washing Liquidiser Rolling out pastryShopping for ingredients Taking things to oven or fridge Giving out foodPopcorn Chopping
Sand (wet)Pipes Tunnels Sandcastles Filling thingsBurying treasure and objects TunnellingArchimedes screwSand in buckets and trucksDigging
Sand (dry)Funnels and bottlesFilling bags and socks Filling pipes Collecting in yogurt pots Pipes, funnelsSand wheel SprinklerPipes Guttering Trucks Trail'sThings with holes Pipes Guttering
WaterPipes Hoses BridgesWashing things Filling up bottles Pipes and funnels Making boats Blow bubblesCircular sewing Pom-pomsHose pipes and tubing Pouring GutteringThings with holes Bubbles Pumps Sprays Squeezy bottles
FabricSawing Threading Weaving KnittingMaking bagsTaking turnsN/ASewing Knitting Weaving
Role-playFilling handbags Arranging furniture, cushions, bricks etcFilling bags Dressing up Dolls in cots, prams Dressing dolls Blankets over tablesN/APlaying post people/milk people 'Moving house 'Pulling toys on stringAppropriate ways of running, throwing, kicking in role
Small worldTrain track People Car's Layouts AnimalsN/AN/ACars and tractors Trains Collections LayoutsCars and ramps
ComputerLoading Word processing Printing SymmetryN/ASequencing Making patternsPrinting workPressing buttons
Games and puzzlesDominoes Jigsaws Matching and tessellating games Magnetic fishingFeely boxes LottoTurn-taking Incy Wincy spider Number topWhisper games Snakes and ladders LudoThrowing dice Snakes and ladders


ActivityConnectionEnveloping and enclosureRotationTransportingTrajectory
PaintPatterns SymmetryBorders for pictures Bubble painting Covering paintingsMixing paint Finger painting Paint rollers Marble paintingCarrying paint/water to objectSpray and splatter painting Blow painting Squeezy bottle
WorkshopSellotape, string, boxes, glue, junk modelling, kites, threadingMasks, hats,Wrapping up, crowns, tape Putting things in boxes Papier macheMaking containers or vehiclesMaking containers or vehiclesPaper aeroplanes Toy parachutes Elastic band Catapults
BooksMaking booksOpening and closing booksRepetitive stories and rhymesGoing to library, taking books to special placesN/A
GraphicsSymmetry CalendarsEnvelopes Writing in little books Letter boxesRound paper SpirographSending and receiving letters, parcels and messagesRulers Drawing/ writing about cars, planes.
Small constructionMarble runPutting away Houses for thingsCog wheelsModels with wheelsBuilding and demolishing towers, marble run
Large constructionBricks and blocksBurying things Houses for thingsCog wheelsModels with wheelsMaking rockets, fast trains
Outdoor playMaking up games Circle games Gardening Parachute games Obstacle courses Hose pipesBurying things Hiding in or under Tents, dens Hide and seek Parachutes Playing in boxes and boatsSprinkler Skipping Hoops, quoits Rolling tyres down hill Wheeled toys Circular obstacle courseTrucks for collecting and carrying Road games Suitcase Moving equipmentWatering - pipes and cans Flags, nets Running, hitting, throwing and aiming games Balls, bats, skittles
Music and soundPercussionHeadphonesRecord player Rounds, chants Ring gamesTaping music Listening and imitatingPercussion
MalleableConnecting modellingModels with things inside Covering pies and cakesMixing dough Rolling Making ballsDough to oven Carrying cakes in egg boxesGarlic crush Hammering and throwing clay
WoodworkNails, nuts, bolts; wood to hammerN/ADrill ViceMaking things with wheelsHammering Sawing
InvestigationElectric circuits Pulleys Pipes and plumbingMicroscope Binoculars Bottle's, collections Seeds and bulbsGiro scopeCogs Pulleys Wheels Spinning tops KaleidoscopesCollections Pulleys Snail trailsCatapults Pulleys Rotators Reflection

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