Sunday, 11 August 2013

Schemas in the early years

Do you ever wonder why a child lines up their toys... seems fascinated by things that go round and round... hides repeatedly under blankets and in boxes... throws everything round the room?

What you are probably seeing is a child learning through a schema. A schema is a repeated pattern of behaviour. I first found out about schemas in 2009 when I attended some training and researched about schemas for my e-book 32. I have been totally fascinated by them ever since!

Some of the most common schemas include -

• Transporting - the child carries toys around and loves sitting in a buggy so you can push him around the house and garden;

• Trajectory - usually spotted when a child simply cannot stop throwing - everything they can get their hands on is lobbed around the room. They will normally love water play as well;

• Enveloping / enclosure - the child covers themselves or their toys with blankets and hides in things; linked very closely to enclosure schemas where children draw borders round their work or prefer to be within a boundary made with cushions or boxes;

• Assembling / disassembling - lining things up (toy animals, trains, cars), putting them together and taking them apart;

• Rotation - pictures in paint and crayon show lots of circles and the child can often be found spinning themselves or toys round and round;

• Scattering - children are not being ‘naughty’ when they throw contents of sand trays or toy boxes in every direction. They are learning through a scattering schema and will appreciate you providing lots of baskets of bits and bobs which they can tip out and move around on the floor with their hands or legs;

• Orientation - the child looks at things from different angles eg upside down, through their legs, sideways etc.

Once you have observed and recognised that a child is learning through a schema (not all children use schemas to learn so you need to spot it a few times first), you can share information about how they are learning through their play with parents and research to find lots of ideas for follow on activities that their child might enjoy.

I write little information sheets in parent friendly language when I spot a child exploring a new schema and give them to parents. They contain a little bit of information about the schema I have observed, photos of the child learning through their new schema (I find that parents will engage better if they are asked to read something that features photos of their child!) and some ideas for extension activities to develop the schema further.

Do you want to find out more? You can...

• Download this document from Leicestershire Early Years -;

• Borrow a copy of ‘Again Again’ by Sally Featherstone from the library or local Children’s Centre;

• Look at the lovely pictures on my friend Lucy’s website -;
• Print this illustrated sheet to put into your Learning Journey files and share with parents -;

• Buy e-book 32 ‘Schemas’ for £3.99 from

Enjoy schema spotting! Sarah x