What is a schema?

A schema is a repeated pattern of behaviour that a young child may exhibit, as part of a natural instinct to 'construct and reconstruct their experiences through play and action' (Piaget 1926) so they can secure new ideas and learning. Schemas might appear as your child plays. You might see one schema or you might see a group of different schemas all at the same time; some may last for a short period of time, others may last much longer.The repeated action of doing the same activity over an over may seem a little bizarre, but your child is making connections and securing those connections in the brain - so the connections remain permanent!

Some of the most commonly identified schemas found in children's play are:


- Carrying toys from one place to another

- Emptying and re-filling boxes, bags etc

- Moving items around using prams and trolleys


- Enjoys bouncing, kicking and throwing balls

- Likes to climb and jump off objects

- Makes arcs in their spilled food/drink with their hands



- Enjoys putting things together e.g. train tracks, zips, building blocks

- Enjoys constructing toys and making new variations of toys

- Destroys items e.g. building then deconstructing a sand castle



- Posts toys and pushes items into tubes

- Enjoys wrapping dolls/toys up in paper, fabric or tissues

- Covers painting up with another colour



- Puts their thumb into and out of their mouth

- Fills up empty cups, climbs into large boxes

- Puts items into bags, boxes etc



- Enjoys aligning objects e.g. lining up cards, arranging toys

- Prefers to arrange their food separately e.g. food and sauce

- Lays underneath the table instead of sitting on a chair



- Fascinated by moving objects: e.g. salad spinners, the washing machine

- Loves anything with wheels, or objects that spin or roll

- Enjoys spinning on the spot, being spun or rolling



- Child may add liquid to solid foods

- Enjoys putting water into sand

- Enjoys mixing different colours when painting, colouring or icing a cake

How do we use our knowledge of schemas in practice?

Thanks to our knowledge of schemas, early years professionals can now assist children in making sense of the world and their different experiences. Here at Play Away Day Nurseries we use our knowledge of the children's schemas to promote individual children's learning. Through planned activities involving their schemas children can continue to build upon connections (synapses) already beginning to form within the brain. Our abundance of cooking, water play, creative crafts, role-play and sensory play activities all contribute to promoting play based around schemas.

How can parents help at home?

In order to keep children continuously expanding their use of schemas, you can get involved by planning a range of activities at home.

For more information go to: