A schema is simply a fancy word for a pattern of behaviour. It is the name given to a child’s desire to do something over and over again. Often, these repeated behaviours support, or become part of, their play and learning.
For example, if your child repeatedly grabs their baby doll and wraps it in a blanket, this is an example of the enveloping schema. If they get all of their cars out of the basket and arrange them in a line, this is a positioning schema.
In a hurry? use these links to skip forward to a particular schema:
Why do I need to know about schemas and how do they affect my child?
It is important to be aware of the different schemas because they help us to understand and support our child’s development. A great example of this might be a child who repeatedly takes food off their plate and dumps it on the floor. This might feel like ‘naughty’ or ‘unwanted’ behaviour, but once we understand that this is most likely your child going through a trajectory schema, it makes it much easier to understand and support this need.
In this scenario, we could provide plenty of opportunities to support the trajectory schema outside of meal times, which would reduce their need to throw food and instead take the opportunity to throw things in a more manageable way.
What are the different types of schema?
First of all, the number of different schemas differs depending on whose research you are reading. Personally, I have always followed the notion of 8 schemas, because any additional ones seem to fit nicely within these categories.
Here, I am going to break down each schema type as well as activity ideas to help you fulfil each one!
Don’t forget, if you have any questions or want more information about a specific schema, you can always head over to our Facebook group and post a question in there!
First up, we have the enveloping schema. Children who experience the enveloping schema are fascinated by covering things up so they cannot be seen. This could be wrapping their toys in paper, wrapping their doll in a blanket, getting dressed up in new or fun clothes or wrapping their teddy’s paw in bandages.
Equally, they might be obsessed with things that already appear to be ‘enveloped’. For example: a closed bin, what’s under the bed sheets, what’s in that draw or why is the bread in the bag?
Finally, enveloping can also be identified by a child’s need to hide things. Do you often find your keys are missing? Or the remote is inside the toy kitchen microwave?
Again, this is why identifying schemas is so important. In the moment, it might feel like our child is deliberately hiding our things and making us late for work, but it is actually a developmental milestone!
Here are some strategies to help with the enveloping schema:
- Play peekaboo
- Let them help with present wrapping
- Dress and wrap dolls
- Take the opportunity to work on getting dressed independently
- Use play tunnels to crawl through
- Give them dressing up clothes including necklaces and bracelets.
- Provide small pieces of cloth or even tissues to cover their toys. Perhaps tucking them into bed at night time.
- Set up a makeshift doctor’s office and give out bandages to all those poorly patients.
- Put a few items in a bag. Ask them to reach in and see if they can guess what is hidden inside.
- Make sock puppets
- Build a fort for you to get inside!
The enclosing schema can often be confused with the enveloping schema, but they are actually very different. The enclosing schema is all about putting a barrier around something. For example, putting animals in farm pens.
The easiest way to distinguish between the two is that enveloping typically involves covering something entirely, whereas enclosing is simply putting a barrier around something, still leaving it in plain sight.
Enclosing is an important developmental milestone because it is at this point children begin to realise that some objects and ideas work together while others are entirely separate. For example, everything inside the fence is a horse, everything outside is not.
To support the enclosing schema, you could try:
- Counting by drawing a grid and placing one item inside each section of the grid.
- Jumping in and out of a hula hoop.
- Using a shoebox to make a diorama small world. For example, turn one into a fish tank etc.
- Wrap wool around a piece of card
- Create fences for animals using lollipop sticks
- Move furniture to create a makeshift cinema
- Place a small animal figure on a piece of paper and draw circles or boxes around them.
- Use toy bricks to build a wall
- Use magnetic tiles to build a zoo
- Use chalk on the pavement to draw around their own or a teddy bear’s body.
The connecting schema is just as it sounds. It is all about connecting things together. For example, connecting pieces of paper together with tape, building blocks or Lego towers or even holding hands!
Connecting schemas really help to develop hand eye co-ordination and balance as children learn how to coordinate their movements for a specific purpose, like building a tower.
Here are some activity ideas for supporting your child with a connecting schema:
- Collect some leaves and thread them together onto a string
- Build a tower from various items including some unusual ones such as marshmallows!
- Make paper chains to decorate a room
- Create a collage by sticking pieces of paper and pictures from magazines together
- String pasta onto a thread
- Attach the washing to the line using clothing pegs
- Join boxes together for junk modelling
- Join wooden nuts and bolts together
- Build a railway for your trains
Orientation schema is all about the position your child is in. They might try to do things like walk along walls, walk backwards or roll down a hill.
In this schema, children are learning how things look and that perceptions can change depending on where you are and how you look at something.
Here are some activities to try with your little one:
- Find a suitable hill and roll down it together
- Use the monkey bars to climb and hang, perhaps looking at things upside down.
- Use mirrors or kaleidoscopes to look through
- Do some child friendly yoga
- Take a trip to the local soft play
- Create a makeshift assault course with things to go along, under and over.
- Run up stairs and walk along walls
- Go swimming and practice moving in different directions
- Explore what different characters can see through point of view in stories
Does your little one love to carry things from one side of the room to another? Do they pile their bricks into a basket and carry them around or stuff teddies into a bag to take along with them? This is a transporting schema! It simply means they love to move things from one location to another.
Some activities you can do to support the transporting schema are:
- Provide your child with baskets to move things around
- Push the trolley at the supermarket (or grab a kids size one)
- Once home, help unpack by moving the items from the shopping bags to their correct cupboards.
- Move things around the garden in a wheelbarrow
- Collect conkers or pinecones to take home with you
- Put a doll in a baby carrier or sling and carry them around
- Put animals in a farm wagon and move them around the toy farm
- Fill their own bag for a day out, deciding what they will take with them
- Have a scavenger hunt collecting various things around the house or garden
The trajectory schema is all about how objects move. It can involve throwing, chasing, pushing and rolling.
This one was always a particular favourite for Arlo. He absolutely loves cars and vehicles and is never too far away from anything trajectory related.
If your little one can be seen throwing food from their high chair or throwing toys around the room, the best thing to do is support their trajectory schema in other ways and calmly explain ‘I cannot let you through this because it isn’t safe. Let’s go and get the soft ball for you to throw instead.’
Here are some activities to support the trajectory schema:
- Throwing a ball into a box or bucket.
- Pushing toy cars down a ramp.
- Playing a game of tag
- Rolling balls and cars off a table and seeing where they land.
- Playing sports such as football or basketball
- Object permanence boxes
- Throw leaves into the air
- Jump in puddles or swing in hammocks
- Roll a car or ball down a pipe into water
- Play hopscotch by throwing a beanbag or pebble
Have you ever walked into a room a found a perfect line of stuffed bears or toy cars? This is the positioning schema! It could also involve stacking or placing items in some kind of order.
You might also find a positioning schema at the dinner table. For example, lining their carrots in a row or asking for their gravy to be put in a certain spot on their plate.
To support your child with a positioning schema, you could try:
- Placing items into a tinker tray using the various compartments
- Help to lay the table before dinner with everything in the correct place
- Make mosaic pictures with all the pieces fitting together nicely
- Create pictures using nature resources such as twigs and sticks
- Make patterns using various beads for example red, red, blue, red, red, blue
- Allowing them to make changes to their bedroom, moving items where they would prefer them to be.
- Order items form biggest to smallest and vice versa
- Try some cooking which involves positioning, for example laying strips of pastry on top of a pie or arrange carrots neatly on a baking sheet.
- Plant a few vegetables or flowers in organised rows in the garden
Our final schema of the day is rotation! For this schema, children explore anything in a circular fashion. For example, wheels rolling or twirling themselves around.
You might find your little one is intent on turning the knobs on the cooker or washing machine or they enjoy turning taps on and off. They might also try to turn things such as swivel chairs.
To support your child with this schema, you could try:
- Rolling down a hill
- Giving them some scarves or ribbons so they can twirl around freely
- Playing with spinning tops
- Stirring recipes, such as mixing fruit as it cooks for a crumble.
- Providing toy cars so they can roll the wheels successfully.
- Use tools such as screwdrivers and spanners
- Grab some cheap locks and keys for them to experiment matching the key to each lock and turning it.
- Draw spiral shapes in sand or mud with a stick
- Use wooden nuts and bolts to spin the pieces together.
- Play on a tyre swing
What if my child isn’t showing an interest in a particular schema?
If that’s the case, don’t worry! Children move through cycles of enjoyment with each of the schemas and so the ones they are interested in will change over time. The schemas they are enjoying now will certainly not be the same as the ones they enjoy a year or even 6 months from now.
You will also find that schemas your child has already been through might appear again, so don’t be surprised if you have to search for your keys more than once!
I hope this blog post has helped you to understand the different schemas. My biggest takeaway when I began to research schemas was the understanding that some behaviours, such as dropping my keys behind the radiator, were actually a result of Arlo’s development, rather than a desire for him to make me late for work! I hope you’ve had a similar realisation from reading this post and even collected a few activity ideas along the way!