schemas in play

What are Schemas, and why are they important?

Our little ones learn a lot of skills through doing, for example, walking, they try and try, learning and perfecting skills until finally, they walk, but it doesn’t stop there. They then learn to walk on different surfaces and textures and at different speeds until they can run. Little people develop lots of their skills this way. Have you ever noticed your little person playing the same thing over and over again, like stacking blocks, throwing objects (as much as we would sometimes prefer they didn’t), carrying items from one area to another, etc.? These are all examples of children developing in a specific Schema. Schemas are repeated behaviours that little people demonstrate and perfect through playing. They are essential to developing particular skills. We may not like all the actions involved, but finding a safe way for them to practice can help their development. 

Our 2-year-old Kai went through a throwing “phase” we tried to get softer items involved, but he would often throw solid objects, blocks, and wooden toys in our house. It would have been easy to try and shut down this activity, but that would have stunted his development and interest in this area. Instead, we moved the schematic play outside, got easy-to-grip rubber balls and bean bags, and used these instead. Increasing the difficulty as his skills improved. We added cardboard goals to help his aim, using bigger and smaller objects, so he had to use one or two hands. 

What are the different childhood play Schemas, and how can they be developed in the outdoors? 

Outdoor play has loads of opportunities to develop play schemas. Diverse surroundings for our little ones to grow within each schema, with a great variety of environments for them to play. Here are the childhood play schemas and some ideas for outdoor play and activities to help progress. 

Connection (opening, closing and connecting things):

Opening and closing shells on the beach and gates on a footpath. Closing conkers back into their casings, creating fairy doors or doors on dens which are opened and closed.

Enclosure (Putting items into containers or creating boundaries around themselves and things):

Collecting natural items into cotton bags or containers, building dens, making stick or stone walls around themselves or objects, and creating mouse or fairy houses.

Enveloping (Covering or wrapping themselves or objects):

Wrapping stones or natural objects in leaves, wrapping up in a blanket or hammock, covering themselves in leaves. 

Orientation (different views on things, looking upside down):

Hanging from branches, leaning out of hammocks, looking at bugs through a magnifying glass, creating drawings or taking photos of the same natural item from different viewpoints.

Positioning (Arranging items in a specific order or way):

Collecting leaves, seeds, rocks, etc. and organising them in many different orders and on other surfaces.

Rotation (Turning or spinning items or themselves):

Spinning around in a field or on a swing, throwing sycamore seeds or helicopter seeds and watching them spiral, turning other people, drawing circles in the mud.

Trajectory (Rolling, dropping and throwing things or own body):

Throwing stones, sticks, leaves, etc., into the water, rolling stones down hills, and dropping different items to see them fall. 

Transforming (Mixing and combining things):

Making natural paints and inks with mud, berries, leaves, etc. Making natural “perfume” or concoctions and mixing them around. 


(moving objects around, carrying and transporting them): Have a bag or basket ready to allow multiple items to take to different places, moving unique things around in pockets. Leaf threading and collecting items for natural crafts.

Little people must repeat these actions on multiple occasions at different locations. So ensure you give them time to open the gates, put things in their pockets and throw sticks in the river. If they have a specific interest, encourage them to do it more, giving ideas where needed. Quite a lot of schematic play can be child-led, especially in the outdoors. Often the adult role is to ensure it is safe and to bring along some additional items to add value where you can. Things like an organic cotton bag, natural thread or twine, a magnifying glass, a hammock or a swing. You will find so much joy in watching your little person grow and develop with each new skill. Let us know what works for you. 

Similar Posts