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By Alfresco Nursery, Dec 22 2016 11:48AM


A schema is a pattern of repeated behaviour which allows children to explore and express ideas and thoughts through play and exploration. Schemas in children’s play are a very important concept when it comes to their development. Researchers believe that there are a number of different schemas, for example a vertical schema which is going up and down or an enclosure schema which is putting things inside other things. There are in fact many different types of schemas which start from birth in a simple way but as they become more supported children’s brain paths start to develop faster and extend their learning. Most people have one schema they take into adulthood, or they take several schemas that are hardly used but one will continue to remain by far their dominant schema.

Schemas were first identified by Piaget, a childhood theorist, who emphasised how important they were in cognitive development and that children go through a series of stages of intellectual growth. He believed that as experiences happen and new information is presented, new schemas are developed and old schemas are changed or modified.

The Early Years Foundation Stage states that as practitioners support children’s schematic play patterns, they can build on children’s individual interests, therefore taking part in powerful learning opportunities through sustained shared learning experiences.

Knowing about different types of schemas help us to understand why children are so determined to do certain things that we may not understand. By knowing about schemas we can recognise and support urges and development.

Some of the most common types of schemas include trajectory, enclosing, rotation, enveloping, transporting, connecting, positioning and orientation.

In this article we will look at two examples of schemas in more detail and how practitioners in childcare settings can support children.


1) Transporting Schema

This schema is all about moving objects from one area to another. For example, a child may carry items to one special person and continually keep going back and collecting more to carry over to that same person. Another example would be a child moving sand from the sand tray to the table using different containers to carry it in.

This may become frustrating to a practitioner or a parent who has just set up the sand tray or tidied up the home corner but it is important to remember that this is how the child is making sense of the world.

Once a practitioner has identified a child with a transporting schema it is important to support them by providing some activities and resources in the childcare environment.

These may include prams and trolleys so children can move objects around, or diggers, tractors or dumper trucks in the sand tray for children to fill up and move.

It may be useful to add some transporting schema ideas into an adult led planning activity, for example allowing children to transport letters or numbers from one tub to another.

2) Enveloping Schema

This second schema is all about children covering themselves or other items. Children may hide items under blankets or use a towel, tea towel or similar to wrap up toys for example a doll or another child. It can also been seen when a child draws or paints over another child’s painting or even paints over and over their own, or when a child dresses in a number of scarves, hats or gloves.

Once this schema has been established in a child’s play then supporting them could involve den making, having layers of clothes available, putting letters into envelopes and wrapping presents.

Exploring an enveloping schema can help children to develop an understanding of space and size including volume and capacity. During their play envelopers develop ideas about estimating size and predicting, for example, how much paper will I need to wrap this present.


Concluding evidence provides us with the theory that if an adult or practitioner can tune into a child’s interest then they can support them in their particular schema to develop their knowledge and extend their interest so further increasing the knowledge of each child.

In more simple terms, Piaget called the schema the basic building blocks of intelligent behaviour – a way of organizing knowledge. Indeed, it is useful to think of schemas as “multiple units” of knowledge, each relating to one aspect of the world, including objects, actions and abstract.

Mary (Manager)