What are Schemas? How to support your child’s learning.

Posted: April 25, 2022

Schemas are repeated behavior patterns that allow children to understand the world around them through play and exploration. Schemas are processes that we create by trial and error through experiences.

Schemas help children make sense of the world.  They allow us to predict what will happen next based on experience. This is why it can be hard for young children to grasp cause-and-effect relationships: because they lack experience! We don’t know how things work until we’ve experienced them ourselves. As a child grows they are continually experiencing new things and figuring out how those things fit into their world.

Children start showing play schema around their first birthday. Some children have strong clear schemas. Other schemas are harder to see.

Schemas can overlap, intersect and combine over time. They are constantly changing and developing. There are many different types of schemas.

These are the nine most common schemas:

  • Trajectory– creating lines in space by climbing up and jumping down. Moving objects by throwing, dropping, or rolling. Activities for this Schema: Provide safe items to throw, and opportunities to jump down or climb up.
  • Positioning– lining items up and putting them in groups. Activities for this Schema: rolling down hills, climbing up steps, sorting objects, and blocks, and stacking cups.
  • Enveloping– covering themselves or objects completely. Wrapping items up or placing them in containers. Activities for this Schema: Provide your child with boxes of all sizes to play with. From ones big enough for them to climb into, to small ones to put objects in. Provide your child with fabric or blankets to wrap themselves in or to make dens under tables or chairs.
  • Rotation– enjoys spinning items round and round. Likes to run around in circles or be swung around. Activities for this Schema: spinning tops, hula hoops, and water wheels.
  • Enclosing– a child will form enclosures either around themselves or in their play area. Activities for this Schema: Putting fences around animals, adding borders to pictures, building a fence or boundary around their play area or they may enclose items in boxes or other containers.
  • Transporting– carrying or moving items from one place to another; carrying items in containers or bags. Activities for this Schema: using containers, buckets, and bags with handles to carry items.
  • Connecting– setting out and dismantling tracks. Constructing, joining items together with tape or glue. Activities for this Schema: joining train tracks, building blocks for towers, using tape.
  • Transforming– exploring the changing states of materials. Transforming them from a solid to a liquid state and back again. Activities for this schema:  melting ice cubes/snow, creating goop with cornstarch and water.
  • Orientation– an interest in positioning themselves or objects in different places or positions. They may bend over and look at the world backward through their legs. Playing upside down or on their side.  Activities for this Schema: cloud gazing, yoga, climbing through things, ladders.

You will see schema patterns when you observe children over time.

Offer resources and plan experiences that will motivate them to explore further. Extend the child’s experience and use of a schema at the child’s pace.

More information on Schemas:


What is a Schema?   https://youtu.be/SDIUA8ZzHUE

The Trajectory Schema | How Children Learn   https://youtu.be/Jc7gEtrzUJk

The Transporting Schema | How Children Learn  https://youtu.be/vXoAo-xLAW0

The Positioning Schema | How Children Learn   https://youtu.be/-6MsOsZI_yE

The Enveloping Schema | How Children Learn   https://youtu.be/hcJGRlUdFwE

The Rotational Schema | How Children Learn   https://youtu.be/AqGL9kFK_dcChild putting toys in a basket LIst of different types of play SchemasChild inside a cardboard boxChild playing with trains