Children engage in play for many reasons — among them are using their imaginations, burning off extra energy and learning about the world. And, while it may look from the outside like the little ones are primarily having fun, play is absolutely essential to brain development in kiddos of all ages.
One of the reasons play is so central to child development is it gives them an opportunity to practice schemas. Here’s more on recognizing these play schemas in childhood development and how we, as parents and educators, can help encourage them.
What Are Children’s Play Schemas & Why Are They Important?
Perhaps the easiest way to think of schemas are as specific, repeated behaviors. So, as Education Scotland writes, schematic play occurs when babies, toddlers and children incorporate these repeated actions into their play. These repeated patterns allow kiddos to practice various actions that will come in handy throughout their lives.
As Tinkergarten notes, tuning into schemas in child development can help us understand our kids more deeply and offer them activities that encourage them to keep interacting with the world in meaningful ways. By knowing some of the most common schemas and at which ages they tend to appear, we can supply our little learners with the equipment they need to support these schemas in play.
Examples of Possible Schemas in Kids’ Play
Before we dive into specific schemas, it’s important to note that not all kids will display all of these — or any, for that matter. Some kiddos get absorbed in one schema for a long time; others move through them in a pretty quick progression. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to schemas; they are merely patterns we observe in many young learners.
Trajectory: Kids may start to show interest in understanding how things move, walking in straight lines and dropping or throwing objects. If your little one has ever repeatedly dropped a toy over the side of their stroller, you’ve experienced this one firsthand. Try engaging in water play, swinging, balancing during walks, dropping soft objects (safely!) and letting the wind blow items.
Enclosing/Enveloping: Not only may kids want to be wrapped up and hidden, but they may also display the tendency to envelope objects around them as well. Hide-and-seek is a prime example here.
Transporting: Just as it sounds, transporting entails moving items from point A to point B… and maybe even all the way to point Z eventually. This may entail using their hands, clothing, containers or wheeled devices. Encouraging this urge is an excellent way to help kids build up their muscles and practice different movements.
Transformation: This schema shows up as the tendency to want to turn something into something else — something new and different. As the WOW! Children’s Museum notes, two examples of transformation are melting snow into water and creating “potions” out of objects found around the house and yard. Another example is dressing up in elaborate costumes, effectively becoming someone else for awhile.
Rotational: There’s a reason the song “Wheels on the Bus” is so popular. Many children develop a fascination with how things whirl, twist, spin and roll — both external objects and their own bodies. A classic example is a kiddo getting the urge to roll happily down a hill.
Connection: Look no further than Legos, building blocks or train tracks to understand the widespread appeal of connecting for kids. Tying objects together with string is another possible manifestation.
Being able to recognize play schemas gives us insight into how we can best facilitate productive play for our little ones — and help them have tons of fun, too.