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Schemas

Understanding the ways different children learn through schemas.

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 or 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 spend time joining the train tracks together, stick the masking tape across from 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 corn flour 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 with enhanced schematic play

Children whose play is particularly schematic may have particular preferences in the setting for activities and resources. Examples of this include:

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, trailers

Examples of schemas by activity

Expressive activities

Expressive activitiesConnectionEnveloping and enclosureRotationTransportingTrajectory
FabricSewing, threading, weaving and knittingMaking bagsTaking turnsN/ASewing, knitting and weaving
Role-playFilling handbags, arranging furniture, cushions, bricksFilling bags, dressing up dolls in cots, prams, dressing dolls, blankets over tablesN/APlaying post people, or milk people, moving house, pulling toys on stringAppropriate ways of running, throwing, kicking in role
PaintPatterns and symmetryBorders for pictures, bubble painting, covering paintingsMixing paint, finger painting, paint rollers, marble paintingCarrying paint/water to objectsSpray 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 bands, catapults
BooksMaking booksOpening and closing booksRepetitive stories and rhymesGoing to the library, taking books to special placesN/A
GraphicsSymmetry and calendarsEnvelopes, writing in little books, letter boxesRound paper SpirographSending and receiving letters, parcels and messagesRulers, drawing/ writing about cars and planes
Music and soundPercussionHeadphonesRecord player, rounds, chants, ring gamesTaping music, listening and imitatingPercussion

 Building and making activities

Building and making activitiesConnectionEnveloping and enclosureRotationTransportingTrajectory
Small worldTrain track, people, cars, layouts, animalsN/AN/ACars and tractors, trains, collections, layoutsCars and ramps
Games and puzzles

Dominoes, jigsaws, matching and tessellating games and magnetic fishing

Feely boxes, lottoTurn-taking, Incy Wincy spiderWhisper games, snakes and ladders and ludoThrowing dice or snakes and ladders
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
WoodworkNails, nuts, bolts, wood to hammerN/ADrill ViceMaking things with wheelsHammering Sawing
CookingSequence in recipesPicnic food, sandwiches, mince pies, pasties, stuffings and putting things awayStirring, whisking, mixing, washing, liquidiser, rolling out pastryShopping for ingredients, taking things to oven or fridge, giving out foodPopcorn, chopping

 Exploring activities

Exploring activitiesConnectionEnveloping and enclosureRotationTransportingTrajectory
ComputerLoading word processing, printing and symmetryN/ASequencing and making patternsPrinting workPressing buttons
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, rolling tyres down hills, 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 and skittles
MalleableConnecting and modellingModels with things inside, covering pies and cakesMixing dough and rolling/making ballsDough to oven, carrying cakes in egg boxesGarlic crush, hammering and throwing clay
InvestigationElectric circuits, pulleys, pipes and plumbingMicroscope, binoculars, bottle's, collections, seeds and bulbsGiro scope, cogs, pulleys, wheels, spinning tops, kaleidoscopesCollections, pulleys, snail trailsCatapults, pulleys, rotators and reflection
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 and tunnelsSand wheel and sprinklerPipes, guttering, trucks, trail'sThings with holes, pipes, guttering
WaterPipes, hoses and bridgesWashing things, filling up bottles and funnels, making boats, blow bubblesCircular, sewing, pop-pomsHose pipes and tubing, pouring, gutteringThings with holes, bubbles, pumps, sprays, squeezy bottles

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