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Understanding Schemas: behavioural patterns offering a window into children’s learning

Have you ever watched a child at play and wondered why they are continually repeating certain actions? Filling bags or boxes, moving items back and forth, or enclosing themselves in a cardboard box or wardrobe!


Schema is a behaviour that babies, toddlers and young children may display when they are exploring the world – for adults looking after them, it can be a light bulb moment when they understand ‘schema’ and all of a sudden, the child’s play that seemed random falls into place.


At Back to the Garden Childcare in Altrincham, we strive to understand more about children’s learning and thinking, and we follow the child’s lead in play, tapping into and extending their natural play behaviours.


We wanted to delve deeper into the different types of schematic play at different ages and created a bespoke online training programme, which gave our Back to the Garden Childcare staff a new lens to observe, reflect and enhance their children’s indoor and outdoor environment.


The most common patterns identified are:

- Transporting

- Positioning

- Connecting

- Enclosing

- Trajectory

- Rotation

- Orientation

- Transformation


Spotting schema is fascinating; you start to recognise the many examples of schematic play and how our open-ended resources support this, which is easily translated at home too.


Some examples of schematic play are below:


Transporting Schema

- Moving things from place to another – often in containers (ie: baskets, buggies, buckets)

- This schema supports mathematical thinking, with children exploring quantity, capacity, size and shape


Positioning Schema

- Arranging toys or objects – lining up cars or dolls

- This schema provides early foundations for key skills and activities, from laying the table to sorting, ordering and counting


Trajectory Schema

- Seeing how things move – horizontal, vertical and diagonal (ie: babies love throwing things up in the air and across the room, following where the object lands)

- The schema teaches physical skills; different ways of moving and hand eye coordination – great for targets, weight travel, estimating distance etc…


“Schemas influence what we pay attention to. When children are interested, they learn. If children are tuned in and absorbed, then something is going on.”

Cathy Nutbrown

The biggest benefit in noticing schema in our children’s play is the extended length of their concentration span and focus; its astounding! By understanding their behaviour in play and providing a supportive environment at our natural day care nursery, we better understand a child’s thinking.


The online training is hugely informative to the staff at our natural nursery in Broadheath, and in return, the children feel their interests and ideas are valuable.


Our next step is to involve parents; with their understanding of schema we can observe schematic play at home too.


If you’d like to learn more about the online training at Back to the Garden Childcare, or you’d like to reserve a space for your child at our natural child-led nursery in Broadheath, Altrincham, you can get in touch with us via our contact form.

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