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Schemas in Early Childhood

Schemas are patterns in behaviour, or urges that children have to repeat certain things like climbing, hiding and throwing. They are the building blocks of the brain - forging connections that enhance learning and growth. Understanding the concept of schemas is crucial when it comes to children's development!

There are 9 schemas that all children possess - by recognising them, we can help to facilitate these natural urges in play experiences and activities.

"A schema is a pattern that a child loves to repeat in their play." (Harper, 2008)


The Orientation schema is evident in behaviours like hanging upside down, crawling underneath a low table or climbing up onto a chair to get a better view. This is because children have an innate curiosity to see things from a different point of view, to know what it's like to try a different perspective. It could include looking through a makeshift telescope or colourful cellophane, or climbing up onto the kitchen counter to see the world from the toaster's point-of-view! It's important to give children the opportunity to explore this schema in a safe and age-appropriate way.


You've probably seen your child line up all their trucks in a row or move objects into specific patterns. In fact, the Positioning schema is kept alive in us all, event in our adult years! Feeling the need to rearrange items on our work desks or putting our meat and veggies on certain sections on the plate are examples of the Positioning schema in action.


At Discover My World, we always see the Connection schema during play! It's evident when a child builds a huge tower and then suddenly has the urge to destroy it (or knock over someone else's tower) before building it all over again. Children may connect things like lego bricks, duplo blocks, train tracks and puzzles. They could also use a plank of wood to connect two tires together, or a piece of string to join one object to another.


Has your child ever launched their dinner across the room? Or stared at you as they dropped their water bottle from their high chair just to see what would happen? As frustrating as these behaviours might be at the time, you may not find them so annoying when you understand the development that's happening at the same time (okay... maybe not). Still, recognising the schema in action can help you to create safe (and cleaner) ways for your child to explore this urge!


This schema involves climbing into cardboard boxes or hiding in the kitchen cupboard. It could also be your child putting all of the toys into a container or filling up cups with water, or building a barricade around their play space.


We often observe children trying to pick up as many things as they possibly can with both hands or put their toys in a cart to wheel around the playground. This is all part of the Transportation schema! A great example is when educators have spent lots of time creating a beautiful farm environment for the children to explore, then when the children enter the classroom, they take all of the animals out of the farm area and take them over to the arts and crafts area, or hide them in their pockets, or throw them across to the other side of the room. Suddenly, the 'farm' area is just a patch of grass with remnants of hay.


The game 'Peek-A-Boo' is an excellent example of the Enveloping schema at play! It also includes activities like covering objects with a blanket, taping over paper and using different fabrics to wrap items up.


This schema is pretty self-explanatory - it involves everything and anything to do with spinning! Car wheels, watching a washing machine in action, spinning plates around, twirling like a ballerina, being swung around at the local park and drawing circles and swirls are all part of the Rotation schema.


The urge to transform one thing into another, or conducting experiments to see what happens to different things are all parts of the Transformation schema. Exploring science and physics through simple home experiments is a fantastic way to transform different substances! Cooking is also a great activity as your child can watch all the ingredients combine to transform into something completely new.

How can knowing about these urges help us?

"As a parent, one of the best things about having an understanding of these urges is that we are able to recognise and support them in our children as soon as we see them. When we observe the behaviour and recognise the urge, we are able to redirect it. It's not about the action, it's about the urge!

"If the action is dangerous, harmful or inappropriate then find a more suitable outlet for the urge. That way the energy seeking expression (the urge) can fulfil its role in your child's development, and in an acceptable way."

At DMW, we understand that every action has a meaning and that play is crucial for every child's development. Next time you're playing with your child, watch out for some of these patterns - you'll never look at 'play' the same way again!

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