“My child keeps throwing their bowl off the table, but I can see they are still hungry, why are they being so
painful? How can I make them stop? “

If you have said this out loud or in your head, we hear you, so let’s help find you the answers!

What are play schemas and why are they important?
Play Schemas are natural urges toddlers have driven by their internal need to explore the world around them and try to find out how things work. You may notice your toddler repeating actions or behaviours such as throwing objects, placing objects inside couches, drawers or the bin, opening and closing drawers and cupboards or covering and wrapping objects with blankets (including themselves). These experiments create files in their brains that form the foundations for maths, language science and more.

The Play Schemas begin to emerge around 12 months of age but you may notice some as early as 8 months and some later, closer to 14 months of age. The important thing to note is that these “urges” can look ridiculously similar to “challenging behaviours”. By
gaining an understanding of these totally normal, sometimes hard to cope with, yet important urges, we can
allow the schemas to influence the activities we provide children and meet their needs.

What are the most common play schemas in early childhood, what will I notice and what
activities will support them?

  1. Connection Schema is the process of joining things together. It can involve children exploring both
    connection and disconnection. We can support and extend on this schema by providing trainsets, magnetic blocks, links, threading
    and nuts and bolts.
  2. Enveloping schema is the process of enclosing something so that it can no longer be seen.
    We can support and extend on this schema by involving children in daily tasks like helping to put the washing machine on, stacking the dishwasher, posting a letter, and wrapping gifts.
  3. Enclosure schema is the process of putting an object within something, like a fence around animals.
    Similar to the enveloping schema, however the object can still be seen. We can support and extend on this schema by offering resources like boxes, parachute play, washing baskets to collect things, farms with fences or cubby houses.
  4. Transportation schema is the process of moving something from one place to another.
    We can support and extend on this schema through car play, taking out the rubbish, using a basket or wheelbarrow to move things around.
  5. Positioning schema is the process of lining things up, usually in the form of a pattern.
    We can support and extend on this schema through activities such as puzzles, heuristic play or activities that provoke sorting by colour or shape.
  6. Trajectory schema is the process of movement, I noticed this when the bowl kept getting thrown off
    the table. We can support and extend on this schema through games such as basketball, target practice, marble
    races and obstacle courses.
  7. Rotation schema is the process of movement in a circular motion.
    We can support and extend on this schema through tasks such as locks and keys, opening and closing
    bottle caps, making car wheels, drawing circles, spinning and somersaults.
  8. Transformation schema is the process of turning one thing into something else.
    We can support and extend on this schema by offering activities such as cooking and following
    recipes, making playdough, mud kitchens, sandpits, and dress-ups.

Our final thoughts…
By acknowledging that these “urges or behaviours” seen in toddlers, are a normal part of child development and offering resources for your child to explore schemas further, you will feel less frustrated when they next throw your shoes in the bin! In fact we hope that you will feel empowered to recognise the schema they are exploring and offer more appropriate objects for them to continue to experiment, investigate, imagine and hypothesise!

Keen to learn more about the toddler play schemas, get recommendations to toys to meet each schema and encourage your toddlers independent play. We cover everything in our Toddler Play Course or you can get all the toddler play inspiration and understanding of your toddlers play, development, feelings, behaviours and more in our Raise Toddlers Membership!

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About the author

Mandy Richardson is a qualified Early Childhood Educator and also holds a Masters in Childhood Studies. She is currently completing her PhD in Respectful Parenting Methods. She is passionate about promoting a positive parent-child relationship and a natural, slow paced, peaceful and fulfilling childhood.

Past Posts


The Regulation Station


Toddler Temperaments 101


Saying Goodbye to the Dummy

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