top of page

Parent Guide: Schemas

Toddler playing with blocks

You might have heard the term schemas used by nursery practitioners in relation to your little one’s development. But what does this term actually mean? Is it relevant to you as a parent?


We’ll explore this and more below in our parent guide to schemas!


­What are schemas?


Schemas are repeated patterns of behaviour displayed in stages by young children – they use these to explore and make sense of the world around them.


By watching your little one’s activities you can identify which schema they may be experiencing and begin to plan activities at home that will further their learning!


For instance, you may notice your little one dropping food from their highchair – this may be frustrating as a parent, but it’s actually a trajectory schema!


Displaying this behaviour will also help your child develop spatial awareness, fine motor skills and more.


Toddlers Playing

Types of schemas


There are wide range of schemas you will notice your little one demonstrate – below we’ll explain each and suggest activity ideas!




Meaning: This is one of the earliest schemas you will see. Children are interested in how they and objects move and will often throw items or food from their pram or highchair. You may also notice playing with running water, building and knocking down towers, climbing and jumping off furniture etc.


Activity Ideas:

  • Catch bubbles.

  • Drop varied objects onto a target – these can be different sizes, shapes, weights etc.

  • Make patterns by rolling balls in paint.

  • Throw balls or sponges at a target.

  • Make sensory trays and treasure baskets.




Meaning: Children displaying a rotational schema will be focused on things and activities that rotate! They may be interested in turning taps on and off, winding up strings, playing with hoops, spinning around on the spot, rolling around and more.


Activity Ideas:

  • Explore toys with wheels and cogs.

  • Play with rattles and windmills.

  • Explore mixing and stirring.

  • Create sensory trays.


Enveloping and containing


Meaning: Children with these schemas are interested in covering and hiding items (and themselves!). They will enjoy dressing up, filling and emptying bags and containers and more. Around this time you may notice you lose some things…


Activity Ideas:

  • Wrap gifts.

  • Use everyday items like pegs to wrap and hide or fill containers.

  • Swaddle teddies.

  • Dress up with hats and scarves.

  • Make sock puppets.

  • Play with purses, boxes, tins, wallets etc.


Toddlers playing



Meaning: In this stage, children will enjoy repeatedly moving items around from one place to another.


Activity Ideas:

  • Whilst in the garden or park collect natural materials like pinecones, twigs or leaves – children will particularly enjoy transporting these in buckets or baskets.

  • Play with wheeled toys.

  • Allow your little one to transport varied items in purses and bags.

  • Pretend play with construction-style toys like blocks and diggers.




Meaning: Children displaying the connecting schema want to join items together. They will enjoy tying things, connecting toys and construction arts and crafts.


Activity Ideas:

  • Make pasta jewellery.

  • Create models using junk materials (boxes, scrap paper etc).

  • Make paper chains.

  • Weave patterns using natural materials like twigs and leaves.




Meaning: In this schema, children will show an interest in enclosed spaces. They may construct fences or barricades to enclose toys or themselves.


Activity Ideas:

  • Play with tents or tunnels.

  • Play hide and seek.

  • Make forts or dens with fabrics and pillows.

  • Use boxes to build homes for small toys.




Meaning: Here children will be fascinated by how materials change and enjoy mixing substances together. They will also love exploring changes in seasons and weather!


Activity Ideas:

  • Make your own playdough.

  • Mix paints and create hand-paintings.

  • Add water to sand – explore the texture in a sensory tray.

  • Mix cornflour and water and add food colouring to the mix.

  • Add bubbles to water.


Toddler playing in tube



Meaning: Here children will position, order, and arrange items and themselves. At times, you may find your little one being obsessive about placing items in the exact same place as an object or person. They may also want to line up objects in order of size, colour, or shape.


Note that some children might not want their food to be mixed together on the same plate during this period.


Activity Ideas:

  • Offer plenty of space and time to position resources in rows or lines.

  • Stack or unstack objects.

  • Give your child plenty of buttons, lolly sticks or natural materials to give them the opportunity to sort objects, count and sequence.


Speak to your little one’s key person to discuss schemas your little one may be displaying – they will be able to offer more at-home learning opportunity ideas and provide you with additional resources.


Remember that your little one will change and adapt so the schema they’re displaying may not last very long or may continue for a while. Continue to look out for different signs and keep an open line of communication between you and your child’s nursery.


Additional Resources









bottom of page