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Patterns in Play - Looking at Schema's

Have you noticed that your little often repeats the same 'type' of play?

Do you buy them new toys but find they aren't interested in playing with them?

Do you see random piles of toys in different places or cars lined up beautifully as if they are waiting in a traffic jam?

We often see examples of these types of play when we tidy the playhub between each play session, and would love to tell you a little bit more about why we are so fascinated by them.

This pattern in play is known as a Schema and is used to describe the repetitive behaviours of young children.

Piaget first introduced this term


"a cohesive, repeatable action sequence, possessing component actions that are tightly interconnected and covered by core meaning"

The exploration of how young children arrange and explore objects help them to develop their understanding of the world around them, strengthening and building connections in their brain.

Young children often repeat these play patterns because they are comfortable with their chosen schema or cluster of schemas and can then explore from within these when they are ready.

"Having the opportunity to regularly practise skills such as language, movement and exploration and problem solving skills during particular activities enable the infant to build familiarity confidence and competence. For this reason, repetition is considered to be an essential influence in promoting neural growth and learning." Conkbayir, 2017

There are many types of schemas and some children may have more than one, the most common are:

(Taken from the book Schemas A Practical Handbook, Laura England)

  • Connection: An interest in connecting things together. A child exploring this schema may be fascinated by doors or sticky tape.

  • Trajectory: An interest in lines which may be shown through a child's need to run up and down, drop items from a height and throw objects.

  • Rotation: An interest in items that roll and circular items. This may be shown through a child's interest in wheels, balls and rolling their bodies.

  • Enclosing: An interest in creating enclosures around objects or themselves. This may be seen when a child creates enclosures with blocks or cushions.

  • Enveloping: An interest in hiding or covering objects and themselves. Children exploring this schema may repeatedly cover themselves in blankets.

  • Positioning: An interest in sorting and placing items specifically. Children exploring this schema may enjoy tidying items in their rightful place.

  • Transporting: An interest in moving objects or themselves from one place to another. This may be evident by children filling up bags to transport items from one place to another.

  • Transforming: An interest in combining and changing materials. This may be shown through an interest in mixing sand and water together.

  • Orientation: An interest in viewing the world differently. Children exploring this schema may enjoy swinging and looking through their legs.

The open ended resources we have at the Playhub allow children to practise their preferred pattern of play using their imagination and wonder to create their own intentions. Many toys have restricted play opportunities and if this 'type' of play isn't one that is chosen by your little one they are likely just to explore the object then return to a familiar toy or play type.

When we develop new areas or add new resources we often think about what kind of play may be demonstrated and how schemas could be supported or encouraged.

Our newest spinning bar in the garden would be perfect for those exploring a rotation schema - has your little one tried this yet?

Why not book into a session and observe how your little one explores open ended resources, notice the repetitive behaviour in their play and recognise their chosen play pattern.

If you have any questions about play or how to support emerging schemas just ask and I will happily talk for hours about the joy of learning through play !

See you soon


Director and Early Years Professional

1 Comment

Rachel _F
Rachel _F
Jun 23, 2023

Wilf is 100% in Enveloping Schema!

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