Schema Play: What's it all about?


Often we hear the question "what should I set up in the infants environment?" or "what experiences should I program for infants and toddlers?" While we cover a lot of this in our Brilliant Babies mini course, and there are complexities, our simple answer to these sorts of questions is: schema play. 

But what if you've never been exposed to this concept before? I know I certainly wasn't during both my TAFE and University studies (although we are going back a while!) When I first heard the term and began to understand the concept, suddenly it all made sense. I had been fighting against the natural play urges of children, instead of embracing them and providing an environment and resources that supported them. 

Let's get a brief run down...

"Schematic play happens when babies, toddlers and young children are involved in repeated actions or certain behaviours as they explore the world around them and try to find out how things work. We call these specific actions or behaviours 'Schemas'." - Education Scotland

So, the infant who repeatedly drops their cup from the high chair? Schema play. 

The toddler who pushes a pram around the room, moving blocks from one area to another? Schema play. 

Suddenly the things that can feel "frustrating" or "mess making" now make sense. 


Here are some of the common schema: 


A fascination with how objects move. Common trajectory exploration includes throwing, rolling, dropping. 


Moving objects or themselves from one place to another. Support this with the inclusion of wagons, prams, bikes, carry baskets and bags. 

Filling and Emptying

Yes, this can be a frustrating one as children tip out baskets of toys for seemingly no good reason! Embrace this urge to explore and ensure that you have buckets, water play, sand play and other opportunities for children to fill and empty. 

Other schema include: rotation and circularity, enveloping, enclosure, connecting, and orientation. You can find out more about these and how to support them in your practice and environment, with a set of our Understanding Schema: Inspiration and Discussion Cards

When we take time to really understand how children play and explore the world, it makes it far simpler to provide a high quality, engaging environment and program for them. 

1 comment

  • very well written , interesting

    Darelle McCarthy

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