The Importance of Schema within Early Years

Schema, if you hear this word and panic then you are not alone. It is not uncommon for parents, caregivers and anyone outside of the nursery/teaching environment to have never heard of the term before, or to assume the worst. ‘Oh no my child has a schema, how on earth do we fix it?’ Rest assured, the term ‘schema’ is nothing to threat about, in fact ‘schema’ holds significant importance within the early years of learning and development for your children.

What is ‘schema’
Schema is the technical term used to describe the common and somewhat repetitive behaviours that children have whilst playing. Schemas encompass children’s playing, their interaction with others and most importantly, how they make sense of the world.

Examples of schema

1. Trajectory – creating lines in space by climbing up and jumping down.

2. Positioning – lining items up and putting them in groups.

3. Enveloping – covering themselves or objects completely.

4. Rotating – enjoys spinning items round and round.

5. Enclosing – adding boundaries to play areas such as a fence to an animal farm.

6. Transporting – moving/ carrying an item from one place to another.

7. Connecting – dismantling car tracks, putting tracks together and constructing.

8. Transforming – enjoying changing states of materials such as liquids to solids.

9. Orienteering – an interest in positioning themselves or objects in different places or positions such as upside down or on their side.

At what age do schemas become noticeable?

Schema play is generally more noticeable in toddlers as they start to gain independence and confidence to explore. However, it should be noted that schema is something we all take part in when we are experiencing something for the first time.

Ever built a set of furniture without using the instructions? If the answer is yes, then you are using a form of a schema. The difference is, you do not feel the need to spin around in a circle, play with the door handles and bounce up and down in-between – this behaviour is common for toddlers experimenting with schemas and if they seem to be fixated on a certain schema try not to panic, what seems like an obsession will soon be forgotten once they have mastered the concept.

Identifying the importance of schemas

Schemas are a natural and fundamental part of child development and by identifying them you:

  • provide a new way of describing children’s actions and behaviours
  • enable practitioners to support parents in understanding their children’s learning
  • helps highlight children’s individual interests, knowledge and abilities
  • enables practitioners to become more effective in supporting children’s learning

How can I encourage schema play?

There are many things you can do to encourage schema play we have listed a few below:

  • Stick animals to the window using tape
  • Puzzles
  • Vehicles
  • Play peek-a-boo with a blanket
  • Use sand and water to discover how liquids and solids work
  • Tuff tray – messy play

Bursting with potential has rooms available to accommodate all types of schema learning – you can see more about it here

For more about the importance of schemas for development in the early years and how outside play can encourage children to explore schemas further, take a look at the article below:

Remember – Schemas are something to be celebrated and encouraged.

If you have noticed some repetitive behaviours and are unsure if they are schema related, why not contact us for some guidance. You can reach us on 01733 223720 or alternatively, you can email us at

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