What is Schema-based Play? Discover 8 Schemas and toys for each.

  • Sep 24, 2021
  • What is Schema-based Play? Discover 8 Schemas and toys for each.

    When you enter a dark room, what would you do? You may feel the wall beside the door for a switchboard and then try different switches until you hit one that turns a light on.

    From knowing where to look for a switch to figuring out how to turn the light on, we have a mental model of the most efficient way to do the task. Building such models happens through trial and error and it begins when we are children.

    While our adult trial and error may happen subtly, for a child, it is loud, evident, and sometimes even messy! A child exploring the world around them may look like throwing their toys, dropping their plate, spinning round and round, or even building something just to destroy it.

    But if you pay attention, you will see them repeating the same patterns of behaviours until they master it. These patterns are called schemas and understanding play schemas will help you make your child’s playtime richer and a lot more fun!

    What exactly is a Play Schema? 

    Schemas are meaningful and interconnected sets of instructions that help a child learn about the world.

    In the mid 1900s, the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget proposed that sensory experience alone was not enough for a child to learn about the world. He believed that to do so, they needed to form basic knowledge structures, or schemas. 

    We can think of schemas as meaningful and interconnected sets of instructions. A child throwing things may be exploring how objects of different materials move through space, whereas a child hiding behind a curtain may want to see how objects can be covered and out of sight. 

    Today, there are eight commonly identified behavioural schemas, or play schemas, that are observed in toddlers. Your child can explore more than one schema at a time. Watch them at play to know which ones they are following. Once they have mastered a schema, they will lose interest in it and move on to a higher level of learning. 

    Knowing which schemas your child is exploring will allow you to understand their behaviours and pick the best toys for them. So in this blog we will look at each of the eight play schemas, how you can tell if your child is in a schema, and play ideas to stimulate them where they are at!

    1. Trajectory Schema 


    If your child is constantly dropping their plate, kicking their toys, or swinging objects into the air, they may be exploring the trajectory schema! Children following this schema may appear mischievous or even destructive. But in reality, every move they make is helping them learn. 

    They roll, throw, kick, punch, and drop to understand how their bodies and different objects move through air. While following this schema, your child learns cause and effect, gross motor skills, body awareness, and visual tracking and predicting.

    Play for Trajectory Schema 

    Sports are the best way to allow your child to exert the trajectory schema. Outdoor games such as frisbee and other playground games are also good ways to do so. 

    While playing indoors, toys such as Pikler triangles and balance boards are great to facilitate movement. A mini bowling set or a ring toss game are also ideal for this schema. 

    2. Orientation Schema 

    Does your child like trying to stand on their head or hanging upside down from the bed? This might mean that they are exploring the orientation schema. This schema is all about trying to look at the world through different view points and perspectives. 

    While following the orientation schema, your child is developing their gross motor skills, learning how their bodies occupy and move through space, and gaining balance and vestibular strength. 

    Play for Orientation Schema 

    Playing outdoors on structures like monkey bars or in play gyms will give your child plenty of opportunities to explore the orientation schema. 

    Playing on a Pikler triangle or a Waldorf board are also fun ways for them to see the world from different angles. Give them a pair of binoculars or a magnifying glass and they may even enjoy looking at everything a little more closely!

    3. Transporting Schema 

    Another simple schema to spot is the transporting schema. In this schema, your child will love carrying their toys from one room to another. They may also like to fetch objects from across the room or to walk around carrying things in their hands or little containers. 

    This schema helps your child understand how objects take up space and can be moved around. They also learn object permanence, spatial awareness, planning and measuring, and motor skills.

    Play for Transporting Schema 

    It doesn’t take a lot to excite your child if they are exploring the transporting schema. All they need is a little container, a carry bag, and a request to bring you something from across the house! 

    Pull along toys, musical trucks, and buggies will all be instant favourites in this schema. They will also love using a toy shopping cart or a trove bag to carry their toys and knick knacks from one place to the other.

    4. Enveloping Schema 

    One of the coziest schemas is the enveloping schema, where your child will enjoy covering themselves or other objects up. They may hide inside blankets, place their toys inside magnetic blocks, wrap their dolls in tissues, or even enjoy playing peek-a-boo! 

    The enveloping schema helps your child understand how objects can be fully covered and go out of sight. When your child explores this schema, they learn visual tracking, object permanence, spatial awareness, motor skills, and comfort and safety.

    Play for Enveloping Schema 

    If your child is following the enveloping schema, they will love to get cozy under the covers or play hide-and-seek. 

    Similarly, tents, Pikler triangles, and even large storage bins are all perfect for them to crawl into and curl up in. Sorting boards could also help a child explore this schema as inserting blocks into slots will satisfy their urge to completely envelop an object in a space.

    5. Enclosing Schema 

    If your child likes to climb into nooks or laundry baskets or they enjoy building fences around their toys, they may be following the enclosing schema. This schema, also called containment schema, looks similar to the enveloping schema but serves a completely different purpose. 

    Enclosing schema helps your child learn how objects fit in spaces and how their bodies and toys can get in and out of a space. It also shows them how ideas and concepts can be contained in a space, which goes a long way in learning letter formation and pre-math skills.

    Play for Enclosing Schema 

    While exploring this schema, your child will like to get into tents, build houses for their dolls from shoe boxes, open and close lids, or build sand castles! Toys such as DIY modular playhouses and colourful finger puppets will be easy hits with them.

    They will also love to draw shapes around pictures or to colour inside a shape. So make sure you give them plenty of opportunities to explore on paper!

    6. Connecting Schema

    Does your child love building block towers and then knocking them down? Or perhaps they love to tie, tape, or glue things together. If so, they may be exploring the connecting schema.

    In this schema, they learn how things can be put together and taken apart. They also learn cause and effect, spatial awareness, estimation and prediction, and fine motor skills such as grip and movement.

    Play for Connecting Schema 

    If your child is following the connecting schema, give them opportunities to put things together. These could be blocks, magnetic toys, or puzzles

    It could even be making collages, paper chains, or other simple DIY activities that let them get creative. Remember that half the fun and learning in this schema is pulling things apart, so let your child guiltlessly enjoy that part too!

    7. Rotation Schema

    Does your child love to sit in front of the washing machine and watch clothes spin? Or maybe they love to spin around themselves or watch things roll. If so, they may be following the rotation schema. 

    This schema teaches them about movement. It also helps them learn cause and effect and understand the infinity of circles. 

    Play for Rotation Schema 

    One of the simplest ways to engage your child when they are in the rotation schema is to invite them to help you in the kitchen. Ask them to stir or roll anything or to twist bottle caps on and off. 

    Toys such as spinners, twistees, and tops are also great ways to stimulate a child following this schema. And of course, they will happily play for hours with any toy that has wheels!

    8. Positioning Schema

    Finally, we come to a schema that most adults will love as much as their little ones — positioning. When your child is exploring this schema, they will want to place their toys in a particular order, line up their plush toys, or organize things around them in specific ways. 

    These behaviours that seem obsessive actually teach your child to explore patterns. It also helps them identify similarities and differences, learn to classify and sort, and hone skills such as focus and concentration.

    Play for Positioning Schema 

    Bring on the stacking and sorting games! This schema is all about exploring patterns and order. So while going through it, your child will find satisfaction in anything that they can lay out in different ways. Free play toys such as arches and blocks are also perfect for the positioning schema. 

    You could also include your child in tidying up and helping with chores such as setting the table. These will stimulate their desire for order and also introduce them to keeping spaces clean and tidy! 



    If you would like more ideas to engage your child in at-home activities, check out our expert sessions and Co-Create series. These are filled with simple games that can help your child as they explore different schemas. 

    We hope you’ve enjoyed our series on schema-based play! If you would like to share about your child’s schema journey, write to us or tag us at #shumeeschemas. Make sure you stay tuned to your child's play so that you can enjoy them exploring, learning, and growing every single day! 

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