Learning Through Play: How to Recognise Schemas.

Learning Through Play: How to Recognise Schemas.

How to recognise schema's.

Children love to engage in play, and from a very young age they use play to enhance and develop their skill set.

When we think of Early Years pupils, we think of play. However, for these little ones it’s not all about the fun. Children aged from birth to three are developing at a tremendous rate. And encouraging these little minds to get involved in play can help them to transform into the exceptional adults that they will become.

When looking into the way that early years children play, whether it is at a nursery, at home or even in the park they will be demonstrating either one or more schemas.

CBeebies has developed a television show called ‘Twirlywoos‘ which has multiple episodes based upon each individual schema.

What is a Schema?

A schema is a developmental process which can be identified through play. Each one can be recognised at a different stage in the Early Years development process, and is often a building block towards a life long skill.

By identifying the different schemas it is then possible to help promote and enhance their development by encouraging activities which fit each individual schema.

Not only will identifying the schema allow you to aid their development, but it will also help you to engage with the child based on a mutual interest.

By creating activities based around the schema which the individual child is displaying, you should be able to hold their attention for longer. Keeping them interested in the task at hand.

When talking about the schemas it is important to understand what each individual one is, and how you can use them to aid in development.


Orientation is the urge to hang upside down, or look under the table. Or over the top of the counter. This urge comes from wanting to see things from a different perspective. Though this isn’t something that most of us would carry on in later life, it aids in the development of curiosity, which can lead to new creative endeavours. A great skill to instil in our younger generation.

Early Years Playground Equipment which can be used to help develop this schema:

Orientation Schema – Toddlers Tower


Positioning is when children and/or adults line up objects in a creative order. This schema is evident amongst children who line up their toys in a particular order. This can be in order of height, or colour, or even an order which they have made up themselves.

A great way to enhance this schema is by giving children objects and encouraging them to line them up in an order which you choose. You can get children to line up their diggers in the order of the rainbow, whilst playing in the sandpit!

Early Years Playground Equipment which can be used to help develop this schema:


This schema is centred on both building and destroying. Connection involves joining individual elements together and also tearing those creations apart, these can be ‘blocks‘ or even ‘sand‘. People often recognise this schema as destructive play and it is a great way to introduce young minds to the concept of actions having consequences.

This is a great social lesson, but it can also be taken with them into their academic studies, as they progress through school.

Children displaying this schema, could become our next great scientist!

“Every action has an equal and opposite reaction” – Sir Isaac Newton,

Equipment which can be used to help develop this schema:

Connection Schema – Sandpit


Trajectory focuses on the urge to throw and catch. Throwing, dropping, climbing and jumping are all part of this schema. Anything or anyone that moves up and down in a straight line is of interest to those children who are in the trajectory schema.

You can hold the interest of these children by asking them to jump up and down, or even playing a fun game of catch.

Equipment which can enhance:


Children displaying the Enclosure/ Container schema will often be found putting items into containers. This can be anything from putting their toys into a toy box, to filling up cups with water. This schema is important as it helps them to develop a sense of spatial awareness.

They will eventually come to understand how much of something will fit into a certain area.

This can be developed upon in later life when it comes to weighing and measuring and finding volumes and areas.

You can help to enhance this development stage by asking the children to put an entire bucket full of water into a/multiple cup(s) – without losing any of the water. They will have to figure out just how many cups they need.

Apparatus which can be installed to help enhance this schema:

Enclosure / Container Schema – Tunnel


This schema is when children will move something from one place to a next. This is a great developmental stage as it incorporates problem solving in its roots. This schema shows children developing skills which will allow them to choose the correct apparatus for a task.

For example – How do you transport water, using a bucket, or a colander? Trial and error along with encouragement will allow them to answer this question effectively.

 Apparatus which can be installed to help enhance this schema:

Transporting Schema – Water Trays


Enveloping is a fun schema which every child goes through. This schema is also known as the ‘Peek-a-Boo’ phase. Children hide behind something, or lift blankets over their face, then come back out. This act of disappearing and reappearing is a game which can last for hours and is great fun to encourage.

Encouraging this schema can help to develop their sense of awareness and understanding.

Apparatus which can be installed to help enhance this schema:


Children who are demonstrating this schema, often can be found showing a particular interest in cars, or bikes, often liking to spin the wheels round and round. They may also enjoy to run in circles.

This schema is the stage in which children are developing their own motion and exploring new ways of moving.

You hold the interest of a child who is experiencing this schema by playing with trucks and cars, and also asking plenty of questions about movement. You can even bring in some astronomy too!

Apparatus which can be installed to help enhance this schema:

Rotation Schema – Movement Totem


The urge to transform is the next schema. This urge is often demonstrated by enjoying tasks such as ‘cooking’. They might do this by mixing water and dirt. It’s basically taking two objects and making them into something new.

Children who are within this schema are developing their ability to create. This skill can be transferred into everyday life making it extremely important that we nurture it at this young age.

Try encouraging those children who are demonstrating the transformation schema to make lots of mud pies and experiment with mixing in different ingredients such as leaves and flowers.

Apparatus which can be installed to help enhance this schema:

Transformation Schema – Mud Kitchen

For early years students play is a massive part of the development process, and by understanding the different schemas you can create a playground centred around the needs of each individual child.

By encouraging certain elements of play, you can help to nurture those little minds, getting them ready for primary school and beyond.

Take a look through our range of Early Years Playground Equipment to see if you can create the ultimate EYFS play area.


Don’t forget to save or share this article if you’ve found it useful; we’re passionate about promoting productive play!