How Many Play Schemas Are There? (Solved!)


Schemas are repeated patterns of behavior that children exhibit in their play.

There are nine schemas that are understood to be the most common in children’s play. These are:

  1. Trajectory
  2. Transformation
  3. Transporting
  4. Rotation
  5. Positioning
  6. Orientation
  7. Enveloping
  8. Enclosure
  9. Connection

In this post, I’ll give you a brief overview of each of these 9 schemas. I’ll talk about what they are, and how best to support each with resources and activities.

Transporting schema - using a wheelbarrow

1.Trajectory

What It Is

Children that display a trajectory schema enjoy movement. They like watching movement or making movement happen.

These children are experimenting with direction, forces, and cause and effect.

You may often observe them throwing objects, and watching them as they land.

This is one of the earliest schemas that is often witnessed in childhood.

Activities To Support It

To support this schema, provide lots of opportunities for children to throw and push objects, but in a safe manner.

Some great ideas include:

  • Blowing bubbles, and catching and chasing them
  • Playing in puddles, swirling, whisking, and creating movement in the water in a variety of ways
  • Using rope and tire swings
  • Using gutters, and rolling balls or water down them
  • Throwing leaves in the air
  • Swinging in hammocks, and enjoying being swung by their friends
  • Throwing objects at a target, for example throwing bean-bags into hoops, or throwing natural objects into buckets
  • Rolling down hills
  • Jumping off objects, such as tree stumps, stacks of crates, or obstacles such as planks
  • Throwing and catching scarves and ribbons
  • All types of ball games
  • Throwing, striking and catching balloons
  • Pouring and whisking water in a variety of ways
Hammock supporting a trajectory schema
Hammocks provide the movement to interest children with a trajectory schema

2. Transformation

What It Is

Children with a transformation schema are interested in change. They will be fascinated by objects changing in appearance or substance.

They may also show an interest in their own bodies changing. (Source)

Children are developing an understanding of cause and effect. these children are continually asking, what if?

Activities To Support It

  • Using natural paint brushes to paint in mud, send or other malleable substances
  • Wellington boots stamping in mud
  • Adding water to mud or sand and creating marks
  • Japanese happa zome – bashing flowers with hammers to create pictures with the dye
  • Clay and mud activities
  • Pretty much any activities in a mud kitchen – pouring, wisking, stirring, creating potions
  • Bark rubbing
  • Using a pistol and mortar to create potions and mix substances
  • Making marks with loose parts
  • Clay and play Doh activities
  • Gloop with loose parts
Happa zome art for kids
Creating Happa Zome art, a Japanese art-form of bashing flowers

3.Transporting

What It Is

Children that show a transporting schema are fascinated by carrying objects around a space.

They are learning about where things belong. They are also developing an understanding of distance and mapping an environment.

These children will use all sorts of methods of transporting objects.

Activities To Support It

  • Using pulley systems
  • Wheelbarrows and moveable containers such as trailers
  • Having a variety of differently sized containers around the space, for children to transport mud, water, leaves, and whatever else they find
  • A variety of baskets, buckets, cups and jugs
  • Lots of natural loose parts to be transported – such as pebbles, flowers, sticks, pinecones etc
  • Mud kitchen containers, such as pots and pans
  • Small construction toys in builder’s trays
  • Bags such as rucksacks, handbags, or ‘superhero bags’
Transporting using a wheelbarrow
Transporting objects using a wheel-barrow around the outdoor space

4.Rotation

What It Is

Children that show this kind of schema enjoy things that turn or rotate.

They are learning to understand body position balance and coordination. They are developing an understanding of how objects move.

You may notice they have an interest in anything that rotates, in rotating their own bodies, or in rotating objects that they find.

Activities To Support It

  • Large wheels
  • Tires to roll and spin around inside
  • String or wool to wind around objects
  • Balls thought they can roll, kick or spin
  • Screwdrivers and real tools
  • Circle games that involve movement such as duck duck goose
  • Salad spinners, spoons and whisks
  • Toy windmills that they can blow or that spin on windy days
  • Natural mobile’s hung from trees
  • Large hoops you lied
  • Tires to roll, or tires swings to spin around in
A girl rotating in a tire swing
Spinning in tire swings provides the experience of rotation

5.Positioning

What It Is

Children with a positioning schema are interested in placing objects in an alignment of some description.

In the real world, this often manifests as placing toys and objects in a line. Often these children might place a favorite toy in a line repeatedly.

These children are learning about order, and are also interested in sequences and symmetry.

They will repeat patterns of objects on top of one another and alongside also.

Activities To Support It

  • threading leaves onto string
  • Creating jewellery by threading things like pasta tubes onto string
  • Positioning rubber bands on natural geoboards
  • Observing reflections in water
  • Using hammers, nails and screws
  • Placing objects on 10 frames and five frames
  • Counting and sorting natural objects
  • Playing with small loose parts in trays
  • Creating plaques with clay or mud
  • Using mirror books with natural objects

(Source)

Mirror books and loose parts for a positioning schema
Mirror books and loose parts are fantastic for positioning schema

6. Orientation

What It Is

An orientation schema is an interest in how objects look from different angles.

These children like to see things from an unusual perspective. They may hang upside down, or look at things through their legs.

They experiment with balance height and weight.

Activities To Support It

  • Have ladders of different sizes around your environment so children can look at things from different heights
  • Rope swings
  • Tree stumps and planks for building walkways
  • Allow the children to climb trees if you have any in your learning space
  • Rolling down hills
  • Building natural obstacle courses with large loose parts
  • Bug hunts using binoculars and magnifying glasses
  • Cloud gazing
Rope ladder for an orientation schema
Rope ladders provide the opportunity to see everything from a different perspective

7.Enveloping

What It Is

An enveloping schema is an interest in wrapping up objects or themselves.

Children are developing an understanding of shape, space, and volume. They are experiencing body awareness and a sense of one’s self.

You may see a child wrapping up their toys, covering paintings or drawings in one color, or creating dens to hide in.

Activities To Support It

  • Provide hammocks which create that feeling of being enclosed
  • Provide lots of den-making materials, such as large sticks, tarpaulin, string, clothespins, sheets, and camouflage nets
  • Have small world areas with lots of natural resource is to help children in enclose play figures
  • Burying their toes in the sand or mud
  • Blankets and other large material to wrap things in
  • Large boxes
  • Dressing up clothes
A girl in a den - enveloping schema
Dens provide that sensation of being enveloped

8.Enclosure

What It Is

Children with an enclosure schema are interested in creating borders to contain objects.

They construct fences and walls around items. They also construct borders in the objects that they interact with.

They are also interested in enclosing their own bodies and will wrap themselves up or hide in different spaces.

Activities To Support It

  • Playing hide and seek
  • Hiding inside large cardboard boxes
  • Creating walls and borders as part of block play
  • Creating dens using a range of resources
  • Crawling through tubes and tunnels
  • Placing objects in containers and putting lids on
Large sticks for den making or creating borders
Large sticks can be made into borders or structures to hide inside

9.Connection

What It Is

Children with a connexion schema are discovering how things join, fasten and separate.

They are learning about shape and matching forces of push and pull.

these children will be observed connecting and disconnecting objects, joining and separating things.

Activities To Support It

  • Make worry dolls from sticks using string
  • Create journey sticks, connecting objects they find on a journey to sticks using string
  • Use real tools to connect materials
  • Stacking stones and other natural loose parts
  • Den building
  • Tying string around trees
  • Daisy chains
  • Paper dolls
  • Using construction toys
A girl using a screwdriver
Using real tools such as screwdrivers is an excellent way of supporting a connecting schema

Supporting Schema Play

It makes a lot of sense to support the schemas that you see, as this has a range of benefits.

Schemas help deepen and intensify children’s play. By encouraging their schemas, you will get children that are wholly involved in what they are doing.

Schemas help children flourish, and think independently.

They can also help them make more accelerated progress. Good luck spotting and supporting schemas!

Martin Williams

Hi, I'm Martin Williams, creator of the Early Impact Learning blog. I'm a preschool and early years teacher of ten years experience, and I also run practical training courses for nurseries and schools.

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