Schemas: Patterns in Play


In many of my videos or tutorials you will often hear me encouraging you to watch your child when playing. By this I don't just mean supervising to keep them safe, I mean really watch them! Next time you're watching your child play, ask yourself these questions:

  • What are they doing?
  • Which toys or resources are they drawn to?
  • Do you notice any repetitions in their play?

By closely watching our children play, we can gain a far better understanding of them and what makes them spark! What interests them and what makes them curious! 

When we watch our children, you may sometimes notice a pattern in their play...often a repetitive action. This could be repeatedly dropping an item from a high chair and watching it land on the floor, or perhaps laying on their front and closely watching the wheels as they drive a vehicle forwards and backwards. 

Have you ever noticed your child choosing to do something repeatedly?

In Early Years, these are known as SCHEMAS and your child may be engaging in schematic play. Babies, toddlers and preschoolers often engage in their type of play to try and make sense of the world, but please note this varies in each child and sometimes some children do not show any signs of interest in schematic play.

What's fascinating about schemas is that these patterns in play and the actions the children are practising can be extremely beneficial when they learn to write! 

There are several types of schemas and the beauty of learning to notice them in your child's play is once you've identified key patterns, it then helps you to set up activities following their interests which ultimately are more likely to hold their interest and motivate them to want to play for longer! See if you recognise any of these descriptions below in your child's play and perhaps try some of the new ideas following this type of schema.



rolling schema

This is a fascination with things that move. It might be objects or even themselves. You often notice this in babies. This type of play may include running, rolling things, dancing, throwing and jumping.

Why not try...

  • pouring water
  • dancing with ribbons
  • rolling balls down drainpipes




This is a fascination with moving things from one place to another. This type of play may include carrying things in their pockets, using trollies or prams to move toys or filling and emptying containers. 

Why not try...

  • make collections of items on woodland walks
  • thread balls on a string to move side to side
  • gather wheeled toys such as wheelbarrows, walkers and toy prams




This is a fascination with enclosed spaces. This type of play may include building cosy spaces to play in or building enclosures to put toys in. 

Why not try...

  • wrapping toys in newspaper
  • playing behind the sofa or under the table
  • collecting boxes for soft toys to go in




This is a fascination with the physical action of things going round and round. This type of play may include rolling things, turning taps or watching the washing machine go round and round.

Why not try...

  • collect screw on lids and containers
  • roll down a hill
  • make windmills




This is a fascination with covering or hiding things. This type of play may include dressing up or wrapping things up. 

Why not try...

  • collect scarves and pieces of material
  • hide toys in gift bags
  • use scraps of wrapping paper for wrapping toys and objects




This is a fascination with joining things together. This type of play may include construction, building or connecting train tracks. 

Why not try...

  • making jewellery
  • make a washing line to peg things onto
  • explore using glue and tape to stick things together




This is a fascination with viewing things from a different perspective. This type of play may include hanging upside down on the swings or looking through binoculars. 

Why not try...

  • make an indoor assault course
  • place a mirror where they play to view toys from another angle
  • place paper under a chair and lie on their back to draw upside down



This is a fascination with things that go up and down. This type of play may include stacking objects or lining up toys.

Why not try...

  • nesting dolls
  • building tall towers to knock over
  • making a pulley that goes up and down



Did you know? Each episode of The Twirlywoos on Cbeebies is based around one of these schemas? Watch this clip of Professor Cathy Nutbrown explaining the benefits of children engaging with this programme. Please note this is not an advert! Click here to watch...

twirlywoos schemas


Finally, as I mentioned earlier, by children engaging in schematic play and supported to follow their interest there are many benefits for learning to write. The physical movements involved in these schemas can be seen the shapes and lines required for writing. 


Our Pre-Writing Skills supports children to playfully explore these actions through fun activities to help develop the physical skills required for writing. Each section of the course mirrors the movement of schemas to help children use pencils, scissors and tools with greater control. 

pre-writing skills online course parents educational

Click here to read more about how our Pre-Writing Skills course can help your child get ahead at home!

Happy Playing!