Have you noticed your toddler building blocks and knocking them down over and over again?  Perhaps, you see your child's fascination with crawling under his/her pillow tunnel.  If you notice repetitive behaviour in your child, you may be looking at a child engaging actively in schematic play.

What is Play Schema?

Play Schema is patterns of behaviour that children demonstrate repeatedly. It is a play that children instinctively do and enjoy.

The term "schema" was initially used by Jean Piaget to group the knowledge that children learn throughout their experiences.  He believed that children and adults think differently and that children have a natural desire to learn. The Swiss psychologist and genetic epistemologist are famous for his theory of Cognitive Development.  His work paved the way for further studies of children's development. 

Chris Athey, a constructivist teacher, describes herself as a child-centred teacher striving to be more conscious and aware of the process of discernment or "coming to know."  When she was director of the Froebel Education Project, she shared information about schemas with parents and gathered the children's behaviour and activities at home.

Why Is Play Schema Important? 

As parents, you need to watch out for your young child's current fascination, interest, and preferred activities.  It may seem like your child is engaging in simple play activities, but these activities help your child develop in different areas.

Knowing what schema is currently at can aid parents and caregivers in understanding the child's current behaviours.  For instance, your child may be exhibiting the habit of throwing toys at all times or hiding all your things at home.  These may seem like negative behaviours to you, but they are just doing these things because of the current schema.  When you recognize the importance of play in children and know their play schema, you can provide your child with the appropriate toys, activities, and support.

Here are the different types of schema, recommended play and practical activities, and learning the children gain.

What are the Types of Play Schema?

There are many types of schema, but we will focus on the most common nine-play schemas.

Child flying kite on tropical beach s

·       Trajectory

Throwing toys, food, or anything they can lay hands on are typical with children in the Trajectory Schema.  You may also notice their keen attention on things that swing, such as a pendulum or swaying branches.  In general, children are interested in observing and studying the movement of objects and their bodies in the air.


Play Activities that Support the Trajectory Schema:

·       Flying a paper aeroplane.

·       Flying a kite.

·       Blowing and chasing bubbles.

·       Shooting a ball in a basket or box.

·       Rolling a car in a slide or ramp.

·       Playing with a yoyo.

·       Throwing a frisbee.

·       Bowling.

·       Tossing rings.

·       Jumping in a trampoline.

·       Hanging scarves outdoors on a windy day.

·       Playing on swings.

·       Playing with running water.

·       Playing hopscotch.

·       Jumping from one place to another.

·       Playing a percussion instrument.

·       Playing chasing games such as tag.

Practical Activities that Support the Trajectory Schema:

·       Hammering a nail/peg.

·       Cutting food.

·       Pouring liquids.

·       Watering plants using a hose.

Through supporting the Trajectory schema, children practice their visual tracking, strengthen gross motor skills, and body and spatial awareness.

·       Positioning

Children in the positioning schema enjoy sorting things in order. For example, you may notice them lining up their trucks in a straight line repeatedly.  You may also see your children categorizing different objects in their room according to height, colours, or shapes.  While in this schema, the kids are interested in order, patterns, and symmetry.

Play Activities that Support the Positioning Schema:

·       Playing balancing toys such as Jenga.

·       Balancing random objects.

·       Sorting objects according to shapes, sizes, or colours using blocks, popsicle sticks, pompoms, or buttons.

·       Playing a matching game. E.g., Use cards or toys.

·       Making an animal parade using stuffed toys.

·       Creating a symmetrical artwork.

·       Playing with dominoes.

·       Placing stickers in a pattern.  E.g. On a straight line, on a dot pattern.

·       Lining up toys or other objects in the home.

Practical Activities that Support the Positioning Schema:

·       Placing clothes in the drawer in their specific grouping and area.

·       Setting the table with the correct placement of plates and utensils.

·       Arranging flowers in a vase.

·       Packing away toys in their specific containers.  E.g., One box for blocks, One box for dolls, and another box for stuffed toys.

·       Cleaning the room and returning everything in its proper place.

·       Decorating the home.

Children in the positioning schema practice keen observation, spotting the differences and similarities of objects, improve concentration, practice visual discrimination, learn about classification, discerning patterns, and gaining problem-solving skills.

·       Enveloping

Do you notice children hiding behind the curtains or climbing into a box?  Perhaps you see them hiding their toys under the blanket, the mat, or even your bag. Do not worry; they are not running away or hiding from you. They are just in the enveloping schema.  In this schema, the children are interested in covering objects or themselves. 

Play Activities that Support the Enveloping Schema:

·       Playing Peek-a-boo.

·       Playing Hide and Seek

·       Shooting shapes into shape sorters.

·       Playing with nesting toys.

·       Dressing up dolls in clothes or blankets.

·       Creating paper or sock puppets.

·       Roleplaying as a doctor who bandages wounded patients.

·       Creating a symmetrical artwork

·       Hiding and finding things from a sensory bin. E.g., include sand, rainbow rice in your sensory bin.

·       Playing I-spy.

·       Creating a house, store, or any pretend structure from carton boxes.

·       Guessing the objects in a mystery bag.

Practical Activities that Support the Enveloping Schema:

·       Placing tablecloth over a table.

·       Putting on clothes.

·       Wrapping gifts or parcels.

·       Baking pastries with filling inside such as pies or puff pastries.

In the enveloping schema, children improve their fine motor and gross motor skills, learn about object permanence, learn problem-solving skills, improve their visual tracking, and develop spatial awareness.

We have only gone through three of the nine-play schema.  How did you find the concept of schematic play? Have you seen any familiar behaviour that your child display?  If not, stay tuned for our next blog post as we discuss the other six play schema.

Share your thoughts in the comment box below. 

Tiny Steps

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