Schematic Play in the Early Years

Understanding how a child's brain develops  

Very young children benefit from opportunities to repeat and practise different actions. This helps their brain development and learning as they grow and develop. For example, actions of up and down, going from side to side, and rotating will support children when they begin to make marks, draw and eventually write.  

When children are born, they have lots of neurons, but they are missing the connection between these. This connection is called a neural pathway.  It is the neural pathways that mean we can do things like walk, talk and remember.  Everytime we experience something we make connections, and we strengthen the pathways by doing it over and over. That is what is happening in ‘play’ and the other experiences we are offering children. Whilst it looks like they are ‘just playing’, when they are in fact doing amazing amounts of learning.  It is crucial that they have plenty of these positive experiences to make these connections strong. 


Understanding Schematic Play 

Schematic play takes place when babies, toddlers or young children show repeated actions or certain behaviours as they explore their environment, and discover how things work. The specific actions or behaviours are called ‘Schemas’. They can vary, and some children never display schematic play. 



Picture Source - Education Scotland /Parentzone Scotland


There are multiple types of schemas that children can display. Some will have a predominant schema, and others will show more than one at a time. The following information includes the most common schema you might see in your child’s play, and is informed by Education Scotland’s learning resources 


Ideas for extending play in your child: 

Trajectory Schema  

bubbles, throwing balls, playing on swings  

Enclosing Schema  

Play with tents, tunnels and cardboard boxes. Play hide and seek. Make dens with blankets or bits of material. Outside you can use fallen branches with leaves, logs, sticks, willow and string. 

Rotational Schema 

Explore toys with wheels and cogs. Use different sized balls for throwing, catching and kicking. Play with rattles, windmills, roundabouts and spinning toys. 

Connecting Schema 

Make jewelry by threading pasta onto string. Create models using junk materials, Peg up cards, photographs or washing 

Transporting Schema  

While in the garden or out and about in your community, gather twigs, fir cones, sticks and leaves. Children will enjoy exploring, sorting and transporting using buckets, boxes, bags, baskets and wheeled toys such as prams or trolleys. 

Enveloping Schema 

Wrap presents, Swaddle dolls and teddies with blankets, use everyday objects such as pegs, curtain rings, keys and fir cones to wrap, hide and fill containers and bags with, Dress up with scarves, hats and bits of material 

Orientation Schema 

Lots of energetic play to climb, roll and tumble. Visits to local parks to use climbing frames and explore trees. I spy games and treasure hunts in the garden or park using binoculars or homemade out of cardboard tubes. 

Positioning Schema  

Matching activities, organising by colour, size, shape