A schema is a pattern of actions or thoughts that are used to understand types of information and the relationships between them. Schemas help children experiment and explore the world around them to best understand how they can interact and live within it. Schemas usually emerge in early toddlerhood and continue to around 5 or 6 years old.
If you can learn about schemas you can learn to identify them in your child's behaviour and use them as a better way to connect with and understand your child. We all engage in schemas and us them in our lives but young children do it in a much more obvious, visible way. And we can use these hints they're giving us to support their interests. This in turn helps us provide toys/activities/resources that support these interests.
Below we've put together a simple list of the main 9 schemas children exhibit, how to spot them and then how to support them.
This is all about exploring how objects move through space!
How to spot: Your child will be loving balls, throwing/dropping toys, and jumping off things.
How to support: Drop objects into containers, roll balls along a surface or drop them, throwing soft objects at a target, pouring from one container to another, babies can explore how their arms and legs move different directions by waving and kicking
For younger kids, posting activities are a great way to explore the dropping aspect of the trajectory schema. Photo by @ashchidlow
This is all about joining lines and creating enclosures around objects!
How to spot: Your child will be loving building fences around toys, drawing borders around artwork and running in circles around objects.
How to support: Use fences or blocks to make a zoo or farm with enclosures for animals, create artwork and provide something to create a fun border, use loose parts to create outlines around a group of objects, build houses and put people or other objects in them
Fence building is the classic enclosure activity. You can make a farm or a zoo, and remember anything can be used as fences - blocks, sticks, string you don't need to buy speciality toy fences.
Enclosing can also present itself as drawing borders around things or like the above outline other objects with loose parts. It's a great way to explore the shape or something and negative space.
This is all about transporting, moving and exploring objects!
How to spot: Your child will be loving moving objects from place to play using their hands, bags or trolleys.
How to support: Provide vehicles, particularly ones with a space to carry animals, people or loose parts, use a wheelbarrow, trolley or toy pram to transport objects to different rooms, get a small bag and let them pack it to carry things around, pouring with water/sensory bases
The transporting schema can be a messy one! But it's worth taking a moment to stop and ask your kids what they're doing and before panicking. This day my girls were doing imaginative play packing toys to take to their friend's house that didn't have any toys.
Train sets are perfect for the transporting schema! Especially good is any open carriages where they can store little goodies to transport along the railway.
Transporting can take the form of transferring things from one tray or bowl to another or carrying things to another room and making a pile. You can offer opportunities for this with bowls and loose parts or even set up a basket in another room to encourage transporting a toy to that space. Photo by @acraftyliving
This is all about hiding and wrapping objects or themselves!
How to spot: Your child will be covering themselves or objects with different materials such as building forts, wrapping objects, dressing up, putting things in a bag or painting their hands.
How to support: Build pillow forts or tent with blankets, recycle some big boxes to play in, dress ups (particularly gloves or socks), do some painting in the bath and allow them to paint their bodies, wrap presents with paper or playsilks (pretend or real!), posting activity with balls/loose parts
Something like this Montessori Lockbox with lots of compartments and doors is great for supporting the enveloping schema. They can hide small objects in there and explore how to get them and how to hide them.
An important thing to note for the enveloping schema is it often takes the form of the child trying to envelope their own body. In this situation tent, cubbies and play silks can be ideal for play.
A great fine motor activity that works well in the enveloping (and transporting) schema is transferring pompoms from one container into another. Use scoops or tongs to practice dexterity and strengthen those little hands.
This is all about twisting, spinning and rolling objects or themselves!
How to spot: Your child will be loving spinning tops, twisting ribbons, rolling down hills, and spinning in circles.
How to support: Roll down a hill or spin around in circles, play with spinning tops, riding bikes, particularly in a circle, lock and key games, ribbons to twist and spin, trucks, trains, buses, trolleys, cars - anything with wheels!
This is all about positioning, ordering and arranging!
How to spot: Your child will be loving positioning objects in a line or be very specific about where everything should be placed.
How to support: Make mandalas or lines on washi tape with loose parts, line up objects from smallest to biggest, real-life tasks like setting the table or putting away laundry, puzzles or stacking game, sorting objects in categories - colour, shape or size
Mandalas are a great way to explore the positioning schema, especially for older children because you can get a good grasp of spacial awareness and pattern making in a 2-dimensional way. Photo by @_walkinginthewild_
Lining items up is a great sign that they're in the positioning schema. You can support this by supplying loose parts and maybe setting up an invitation to play like this with washi tape.
Puzzle are excellent for exploring the positional schema. Ravensburger are the gold standard in puzzles and have been for many decades. They come in themed sets, 1:1 scale pictures to help little ones and are self-correcting because none of the pieces can be placed in the wrong spot.
Egg cartoons and trays with sections can be great for the positional schema. Set out an invitation with loose parts and an egg carton and you can either play together and spark their imagination or see what they come up with themselves.
This is all about joining or linking objects together!
How to spot: Your child will be loving forming chains, linking, buckling and even tying objects together.
How to support: Art activities involving glueing, build with magnetic tiles or blocks, threading activities or bracelet making, fine motor play with clips, snaps, buckles or other fasteners, make paper chains, tie objects onto a ribbon
Flockmen are a great toy to explore the connecting schema. They link together in a variety of ways and can be played flat on the floor or stacked like this.
Connecting Way to Play roads is a great exercise for small hands and great way to explore how things connect and how they come apart.
Montessori lock boards are fantastic for exploring different types of fastening and how things can connect in a multitude of ways.
Grapat Rings are fantastic for threading onto all sorts of items and this is a really great way to explore the connection schema. In the above photo we used our Grapat Rings on our Sarah's Silk but you can use rope or any play fabric you have.
This natural building kit is great for exploring connection. Little ones can build their own tree and add branches, leaves and flowers. Photo by @through_our_days
This is all about looking at things from different perspectives!
How to spot: Your child will be loving looking at things upside down or through their legs, they may even climb to get a look from above.
How to support: Get down on the floor together and discuss what something looks like, then stand up and talk about how it looks different (try this in different positions), move objects around (up/down/near/far) and talk about how they look different even when you stay still, lie on your back/look through your legs and discuss how the world looks
Yoga is an excellent way to explore the orientation schema. Looking at the world from a different perspective is fun for children and this can be a great way to encourage it.
Wobbel boards are excellent for vestibular input and they encourage playing in different positions and levels which is perfect for the orientation schema.
We hope this blog helps you understand what schema your child may be exploring and how best to support their play. If you have anymore questions please don't hesitate to Contact Us.