Schematic Play in Early Childhood

“Young children who seem to enjoy certain repetitive behaviors are often exploring a schema. Schemas help children understand the basic concepts of physics that make the world work – all through play!” – Alexis Ralphs

The primary schemas recognized in toddlers include: 

Rotation (an interest in anything circular or rotating, such as wheels or being spun around in circles)

Trajectory (an interest in how things move, such as continuously dropping things or pushing, pulling or throwing items)

Enclosing and Enveloping (an interest in hiding themselves or objects in small spaces, such as placing small objects in containers or bottles; an interest in wrapping themselves or objects, including paint, clothes and sensory materials)


Transforming (an interest in the changes that occur with materials, such as mixing paint, water, sand, or clay, as well as building with open-ended materials)

Connecting and Disconnecting (an interest in joining things together such as magnets or trains)

Transforming (an interest in the changes that occur with materials, such as mixing paint, water, sand, or clay, as well as building with open-ended materials)

Positioning and Ordering (an interest in positioning themselves or objects in lines, patterns or sequence)

Transporting (an interest in moving things from one place to another, such as pouring sand from container to another)

Orientation and Perspective (an interest in looking at things from different angles, such as using mirrors or positioning oneself upside down to observe something)

Schematic play is observed daily in the Ponies classroom (one-year old’s) through different activities that the children choose to participate in. Schemas are important for us to recognize because it helps us to identify the interests of the children, thus making their experiences and learning more meaningful. 

These repetitive patterns enable us to become more aware and sensitive to ideas, thoughts, and emotions that our students possess. These schematic actions help the children to build meaning about what they are doing, in addition to providing them with opportunities to solve problems, ask questions, predict, imagine, and play. Our educators use their observations to determine what schema each child is interested in. By doing this, we can tailor their activities to encourage further exploration from the children so that they are able to get the most from their investigations. Some of the children explore several schemas simultaneously while others remain focused on one until they are able to master it.

Contributing Researchers: Diana Hurtado, Gabriela Urdaneta, Jennyfer Rincon, Chelsie Braun

Resource: “Children’s Lively Minds: Schema Theory Made Visible” by Deb Curtis and Nadia Jaboneta

Like this Blog?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Linkdin
Share on Pinterest

Leave a comment

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Professional Learning Community

This digital space is for educators who wish to join our Professional Learning Community. We’re almost ready for you. Once we’re all set, we’ll share details to your inbox