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Unlocking the Magic of Your Child’s Play

Updated: Jun 17

Have you ever noticed your child’s fascination with certain types of play? Whether it’s throwing toys across the room or meticulously lining up stones, these behaviors are more than just fun—they're essential learning patterns known as schemas.

Understanding Schema Theory - What is a Schema?

A schema in child’s play is a repeated pattern of behavior that helps children make sense of the world. These patterns are the building blocks of cognitive development, as they allow kids to explore and understand different concepts through hands-on experiences. Each schema reflects a different aspect of learning and growth. For example:

- Trajectory Schema: A child who loves throwing objects is learning about motion and cause-and-effect.

- Positioning Schema: A child who lines up toys is developing an understanding of order and spatial relationships.

Understanding play schemas can help you provide activities to support your child's natural learning process.

Does Your Child Favor a Particular Schema? Here's a quick guide to help you identify and support their play preferences:


Children who love jumping, swinging, propelling themselves, throwing objects, and splashing water. Objects & Activities: Water play, messy paint exploration, balls, loose parts, swings, trampolines, rough-and-tumble play.


Children who enjoy moving objects from one place to another. Objects & Activities: Buckets, baskets, pails, containers, loose parts, natural materials, balls, wheelbarrows, sand, water.


Children who like containing things by creating borders or closing themselves or objects within something. Objects & Activities: Cardboard boxes, blocks, toy animals/people/cars, loose parts, empty frames, water, containers, tunnels.


Children who love building things and exploring how they connect and disconnect. Objects & Activities: Train tracks, Legos, Velcro, tape, stickers, magnets, Magna-Tiles, K'NEX, marker caps, contact paper, glue.


Children who enjoy circular motions, whether spinning in circles or rolling themselves, objects, and/or toys. Objects & Activities: Wooden and metal rings, coins, tops, tires, wheels, merry-go-round rides, spinning chairs, hula hoops.


Children who like lining up toys, objects, materials, and food in very particular ways. Objects & Activities: Loose parts, natural materials, geometric shapes, toy people/cars/animals, tiles, dominoes, counting bears.


Children who enjoy covering or hiding themselves, toys, and/or materials. Objects & Activities: Hide-and-seek, pillow forts/tents, cardboard boxes, tunnels, sand table, loose parts, blankets, scarves.


Children who enjoy exploring different perspectives, such as hanging upside down or climbing over and under things. Objects & Activities: Climbing structures, ropes, monkey bars, swings, cardboard boxes, binoculars, swimming, mirror play.


Children who love decorating, mixing things, and/or changing themselves, toys, or materials. Objects & Activities: Dramatic play with costumes, science experiments, painting, cooking, loose parts, craft materials, glue.

Why do children explore different schemas?

Children’s exploration of schemas is driven by their unique interests, developmental stages, and environmental opportunities. Here’s why:

Individual Interests and Preferences: Every child is unique. Some might be fascinated by movement, while others prefer building and connecting.

Developmental Needs: Different schemas develop various cognitive, physical, and social skills. For instance, the "trajectory" schema aids in understanding motion, while the "enclosing" schema enhances spatial awareness.

Environmental Opportunities: The toys and spaces available to children influence which schemas they explore. Access to building blocks might encourage the "connecting" schema, while open spaces and climbing structures might foster the "orientation" schema.

Holistic Development: Children often explore multiple schemas simultaneously or shift from one to another. This variety supports well-rounded development as each schema contributes to different aspects of learning.

Intrinsic Motivation: Children are naturally curious and driven to explore. They will engage in activities that satisfy their need for understanding, leading them to different schemas at different times.

Supporting Your Child's Development

By recognizing and nurturing your child's preferred schemas, you can provide enriching play experiences that support their overall growth. There is no hierarchy among schemas; each one is vital for a child's development. Allowing your child the freedom to explore multiple schemas ensures a balanced and comprehensive learning journey.

Embrace the magic of your child's play by understanding and supporting their unique ways of interacting with the world. This not only enhances their development but also makes playtime more enjoyable and meaningful for both of you.


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