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What is a schema?

A schema, often referred to as a ‘pattern of play’, is used to describe the repetitive behaviours of young children. The word schema was first introduced by Jean Piaget, which he defined as: 

"... a cohesive, repeatable action sequence possessing component actions that are tightly interconnected and governed by a core meaning."

Piaget, 1952 

Put simply, schemas are patterns of behaviour that allow young children to construct knowledge and understanding of how the world works, e.g. you may notice a child consistently dropping items from a high chair or persistently throwing things across a room.


Both are signs of schema exploration as young children make sense of how items work and how their bodies affect change. There are lots of different identifiable schemas but the most common schemas include: 

  • Connection: An interest in connecting things together. A child exploring this schema may be fascinated by doors or sticky tape.

  • Trajectory: An interest in lines which may be shown through a child’s need to run up and down, drop items from a height and throw objects.

  • Rotation: An interest in items that roll and circular items. This may be shown through a child’s interest in wheels, balls and rolling their bodies.

  •  Enclosing: An interest in creating enclosures around objects or themselves. This may be seen when a child creates enclosures with blocks or cushions.

  • Enveloping: An interest in hiding or covering objects and themselves. Children exploring this schema may repeatedly cover themselves with blankets.

  •  Positioning: An interest in sorting and placing items specifically. Children exploring this schema may enjoy tidying items into their rightful place. 

  • Transporting: An interest in moving objects or themselves from one place to another. This may be evident by children lling up bags to transport items from one place to another.

  • Transforming: An interest in combining and changing materials. This may be shown through an interest in mixing water and sand together.

  •  Orientation: An interest in viewing the world differently. Children exploring this schema may enjoying swinging and looking through their legs. 

Practitioners may find that young children have one dominant schema or multiple schemas at one time, known as clusters of schemas. 

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