Play Schemas

Have you observed your child repeating some actions during play or having food and wondered about the behavior?

It is not that your child is getting difficult every time, but he is indulging in play schemas. It is perfectly normal for a child to exhibit play schemas.

Let us understand what schemas mean.

What are play schemas?

Play schemas are the patterns of repeated actions or behavior by children as they explore the world around them through play and express developing ideas and thoughts.

These specific actions or behaviors are called schemas. Children develop an understanding of the world around them through schemas.

Schemas are like a set of instructions on how to do things.

Following these instructions of repetitive actions of the schemas allow a child to practice until they have mastered the play schemas. They can engage better in the world around them with these skills.

Children learn best through opportunities to engage in active learning through hands-on experiences.

Adults also exhibit these schemas without being aware of them. Any task like baking a cake or switching on a light involves a schema.

You create a sequence of steps through trial and error in your brain to complete your task efficiently. As over the years, adults master these skills, the schemas are no longer visible in them.

Kids follow the same pattern to complete a task. Their curious minds want answers to all questions in all their activities.

How were the Play Schemas developed?

Swiss Psychologist Jean Piaget was the first to use “schema”. He believed that children think differently than adults and their intrinsic desire to learn makes them explore the world around them for information.

He observed that learning happens in stages in children, and as they grow, they progress to higher levels.

His theory, Theory Of Cognitive Development reflects on the role of the schemas in this transition.

When do play schemas appear?

Play schemas can appear from the first birthday of your child. They are evident in toddlers and continue for a few years.

Actions like banging, pulling, pushing, and bashing are all examples of schema play.

A schema may be strong, and as they get mastered by the children, they get replaced by another.

However, children tend to practice multiple schemas at once. They vary from child to child, and some children may never exhibit play schemas.

Why are play schemas required?

  • Schemas help children understand their bodies and how they fit in the world around them.
  • They allow us to anticipate things based on past experiences.
  • Psychologists understand schemas to understand the brain.
  • Educators need to understand play schemas to understand their students so that they can adapt their curriculum.
  • Parents can understand their child’s behavior and plan activities accordingly.
  • By understanding the cause of this particular behavior and that they are not simply misbehaving, parents can easily cope with the unwanted behavior.
  • By knowing their interests, you can plan activities accordingly that they can enjoy.

Different types of Play Schemas

There are many types of play schemas in theory. However, we shall focus on eight schemas commonly exhibited by children.

1) Trajectory Schema

It is the most common and earliest schemas observed in babies. Trajectory play schemas are related to how things move.

Children always love movements and are fascinated by how things move.

They move their body parts in horizontal and vertical lines. Movements like pushing and kicking are horizontal trajectories.

Dropping objects or putting things in and out of containers are instances of vertical trajectories. 

Are you worried that your baby throws things on the floor? Or why is your toddler throwing food from their highchair?

Toddlers usually throw food from the high chair plates. It is annoying for parents, and they assume it to be tantrums of babies.

The reality is the children are experimenting and understanding with every drop and throw while they exhibit this trajectory schema.

They are learning the cause and effect and absorbing knowledge as they discover how different things fall at different speeds, how they make different sounds, what happens when they drop or throw objects, and the effects of their actions.

Children are also involved in trajectory schema by interacting with things that are already moving, like placing hands under running water.

Other activities in this play schema are running, jumping in puddles, throwing a ball, sliding, playing on swings, pulling, pushing, pointing, rocking, climbing, and many more.

Activities supporting trajectory schema – Plenty of outdoor play, paper planes, swings, slides in a park, throwing toys, chasing games like tag, football, and baseball, throwing a ball or sponges at a target, catching bubbles, catapult, pouring water, dropping things from high places, yoyo, kites

2) Rotation Schema 

This play schema is observed in children when they rotate in a circular motion or are interested in objects that are spinning and twirling around.

Anything that goes in a circular motion – wheels, washing machine, merry-go-round, ring-a-roses, spinning tops, riding around in a bike are all experiences of rotation schema.

This exploration and understanding of the circles in children lays the foundations for rotational symmetry in mathematics and rotating magnetic fields in science,

Activities supporting rotation schema – using screwdrivers and spanners, mixing and whisking cake ingredients, connecting nuts and bolts, making pinwheels, playing with rattles, windmills, spinning toys, twisting ribbons, playing with streamers, etc.

3) Connecting Schema

Connecting schema involves joining things together or tying things up.

Children can experience this schema when they enjoy building train tracks, working with puzzles, doing arts and crafts where they stick pieces together, lining toys up, or opening and closing lids.

This type of play helps children to figure out how things fit together. Children can develop science and math skills, spatial awareness, fine motor skills, and an understanding of cause and effect by exploring the connection schema.

Activities that support connecting schemas – Jigsaw puzzles, pop beads, putting marker caps on and off, Legos, tying shoes, Lacing Boards, nuts, and bolts.

4) Transporting Schemas

Children enjoy carrying objects from one place to another using hands, pockets, or filling containers such as buckets, trolleys, wheelbarrows, and bags.
They may enjoy transporting themselves too to explore transporting schemas.

Children develop a sense of independence and responsibility by simply transporting items from one point to another.

They gain a lot of pleasure from completing a task and seeing the result of their hard work. They develop spatial awareness, fine motor skills, planning, and measuring.

Activities that support transporting schemas – Wagons to transport toys, Toy shopping carts, cooking, baskets, levers and pulleys, reusable shopping bags, baskets, Pipettes, and wheelbarrows.

5) Positioning Schema

Children involved in positioning schema enjoy arranging and positioning objects or themselves.

They love making patterns, putting objects in lines, and ordering things in sequences. Some children may enjoy positioning objects in order of size, color, or shape.

Positioning schema helps lay early foundations for many skills and activities, like making the table and placing shoes under pegs, pre-math and science skills, and keeping school books tidy.

They learn to recognize similarities and differences, develop concentration, explore patterns, and classify.

Activities supporting positioning schema – Stacking blocks, Pink Tower, Pegboards, balancing objects, button sorting activity, symmetrical patterns with pebbles and shells, Knobbed Cylinders.

6) Enveloping Schemas

Children with enveloping schemas are interested in covering and hiding objects and themselves with different materials. They try to find out what happens when they wrap or envelope an object.

They may enjoy dressing up, playing peekaboo, wrapping themselves in a blanket, or enveloping their baby doll.

It helps children develop their fine and gross motor skills, problem-solving, and spatial awareness.

Activities supporting enveloping schema – Dressing dolls, Pikler with a blanket, hide and seek, Baking, dressing up, wrapping gifts.

7) Orientation Schema

It is exhibited by children who like to see the world from different angles – by hanging upside down, looking through their legs, viewing from the top or underthing.

The children try to figure out how the world looks from different points of view.

These activities help develop body and spatial awareness, gross motor skills, and sensory stimulation. These play schemas also help to build confidence in many activities and games.

Activities supporting orientation schema – Binoculars, mirror, yoga, Magnifying Lens, gymnastics, climbing trees, Kitchen Tower, Pikler Triangle.

8) Enclosing Schemas

They are similar to the enveloping schema but have the unique feature of creating boundaries.

Children may join lines or assemble structures with different materials to form an enclosure. They show interest in creating enclosed spaces or constructing fences and barricades to enclose their toys or themselves.

This schema helps them develop pre-math skills as they plan enclosures with measurements. They also develop fine and gross motor skills and object permanence.

Activities supporting enclosing schema – Cardboard box house, tents made from sheets and blankets, Tunnels, Building blocks, Moats, and sandcastles.

Final Thoughts

When children throw things or are messy sometimes, rather than getting upset, celebrate their actions!

Encourage their curiosity by providing them with opportunities to learn from the world around them.

Schemas are a natural part of children’s play and development that help us understand why some children show persistence to do things in a certain way.