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What are schemas?

Children are individual in their ways of learning, which is why learning about schemas or ‘schematic play’ can be beneficial in an early years environment.

What is a schema?

A schema is where children repeat the same actions, concepts or ideas in their play. They give us an insight into children’s passions and interests. Within our nurseries, we use schemas to help us engage with children more deeply in their learning, and extend their thinking.

A schema is not a specific ‘type’ of play, it is more ‘how’ the child chooses to play and the actions they like to take. They can be part of all forms of activities from arts and crafts to sports. Some children use many schemas during their play, whereas others may prefer just one.

What are the 9 most common schemas of play?

Transporting – Where children are fascinated with moving themselves, objects and toys. They may enjoy learning about journeys in the car or public transport. During this play, they may load items into moving objects such as buggies or cars and then move them around.

Transforming – Where children are fascinated with cause and effect. Mixing different materials and substances together, exploring if they can change an objects shape, colour or consistency. This is a messy schema!

Enveloping – Where children are very interested in space and capacity. Wrapping themselves or their toys in blankets. In creative play, it can sometimes mean they cover a drawing or painting with more paint or colour, which can be confusing to watch!

Rotating – Where children show a fascination with things that can rotate or spin, and they exploring curved lines and circles. During this pay, they may spin around or enjoy items that have wheels. At home, they may enjoy watching items spin like paper fans….or the washing machine!

Trajectory – Where children are interested in how things move horizontally, vertically or diagonally and how objects can be pushed or thrown. Children interested in this schematic play may often knock things over like tower blocks, run very fast or enjoy making paper aeroplanes to fly through the sky.

Positioning – Where children are interested in placing objects in rows, patterns or lines. They may like to keep their toys in a specific order, or have food on their plate separated.

Enclosing – Where children love defined spaces and exploring concepts relating to size, shape and pattern. Children may enjoy putting ‘fences’ around their toys or placing borders around drawings or paintings. They may also like climbing into boxes and closing the lid to ‘hide’.

Orientation – Where children observe objects from different angles and viewpoints, such as climbing to get a view of something from up high or to turn to get a view from upside down. Sometimes when using a slide or a swing you’ll see children use their schematic type of play.

Connecting – where children love to explore how things join together or come apart. During this play they may like connecting blocks together in a long line or tower, and they may enjoy completing jigsaw puzzles.

What can we learn from Schematic Play?

By recognising schematic play, our team can use schemas as an individual guide to expand children’s thinking and learning. Parents can utilise schemas at home to provide an extension of their child’s development from nursery to home.

Here’s an example - For a child who enjoys ‘enclosing’ schema play, such as wrapping items in blankets like dolls or cars, parents could provide the child with seeds or bulbs, plant pots and soil at home. Allow them to explore enclosing the seeds and bulbs in soil all while supporting their development and following their own interests and preferred methods of play.

Provide repeated, real and first-hand opportunities for the child to experiment with schematic concepts helps towards them refining and building their existing knowledge.



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