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ParenTalk- How We Begin Doing Things: Understanding Schema

ParenTalk- How We Begin Doing Things: Understanding Schema

This is part of our #SchemaSaturday series. Learn about the various schemas, and in coming weeks, The Nestery rounds up various products that can support such schemas.

What makes us do things? Going about our daily tasks. Cleaning up your study desk, stocking our jars in the kitchen cupboard, swishing the rice to wash it. But there was a point when we, as toddlers, were learning the skills we now take for granted. Ever wondered how you mastered this daily life chore? The answer is Schema

What is schema? A SCHEMA, simply put, is a pattern of repeated actions, that is a way for them to understand how the world around them works in relation to them. Schemas are fascinating to the kids (and maybe not understandable to adults sometimes). This can be throwing an object, build a fence with blocks around their favourite toy, pulling a string toy, hide under the bedsheet to their immense joy.

Children build different mental schemas through stages of growing up. For example, between 6-12 months of age, as motor abilities advance, children explore their environment using their senses- by reaching, inspecting, holding, mouthing, and dropping objects. They begin to make sense of their actions like banging two blocks produces sound or pressing a button turns on the music on a toy. 

Such patterns of repeated behavior like moving and hands on experiences through play, exploration and opportunities of active learning become the cornerstones in the development of cognitive, gross and fine motor skills and even emotional intelligence. Schemas build through play and active learning and as children grow they pile up and help to develop a methodical, systematic and logical collection of information through their senses and movements. 

It is important for caregivers to understand Schema as it helps to attain a better understanding of child behavior and interests, mold and mend habits and assist in developing cognitive abilities and learning through schematic play patterns. 

There are many schemas, however the most common types of observed schema in children include during development stages– Trajectory, Transporting, Rotation, Connecting, Enclosing, Positioning, Enveloping, and Orientation

what is schema


Schemas & activities aligned to them to enhance learning 

  • Making and flying a paper plane is a common childhood activity that caregivers engage with their children. Such activities develop understanding of patterns of movements and exploration of straight lines. Babies begin to reach out for people and things, they move their legs and bodies in horizontal and vertical lines e.g. pushing, kicking (horizontal trajectory) and dropping objects or putting things in and out of containers, jumping up and down (vertical trajectory). Activities like playing with a yo-yo, making tracks for wheeled cars, making the child put birthday streamers, dart games, blow and catch bubbles help build trajectory schemas. Use simple commands like – fly, float,  bounce, up down fast, slow, twirl, glide swing during trajectory schema play activities

  • You must have seen a child running in circles or cycling in rounds. They tend to roll and spin their bodies or things while playing. These are rotational schemas are build during energetic playing like running in circles or rotating a ribbon stick. Some activities that support rotational schemas are paint or draw circles, making round patterns with spaghetti, construction toys that use cogs and wheels, play with hula-hoops, collect and explore circular things like conches, coils, batteries springs etc. mix sugar in cake batter . The cue words during play may include – spin, circle, round, twist, swirl.

  • While making a dollhouse, children like to use things and place them in way that it forms an enclosure. They may draw and paint borders around their art works, or make enclosures and fill them with colors Children may make round, square or rectangular enclosures, which show their interest in putting things and spaces in order. Activities like making a cardboard box house or building a tent with a bedsheet, build a fence around toys in the garden, put a bandage on teddy’s leg or wrap a blanket on the doll, hide under a stole or scarf to pretend it to be Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak are great activities that build enclosing schemas in children The keywords to use during such activities are Enclose Wrap Inside / outside Size words such as bigger, smaller, longer and shorter Corner Side Entrance Exit Contain. 

  • Children love to cover and hide themselves, games like peek-a-boo and magic appears disappears are al time favorites. Literally donning a number of hats, wearing necklaces and bangles and wrapping scarves can also be commonly observed in children. You may find this one messy but children love to smear glue and paint on their hands and bodies and peel it off. Mummifying themselves and their little friends with tissue rolls have certainly embarrassed many caregivers during a birthday party. All these are enveloping schema and you may cater to their need to engage in such activities by giving them boxes and fabrics of different sizes that they could use to wrap, blankets to wrap dolls, make candies and put wrapping papers, decorate empty tin boxes or bottles with strings and ribbons. Give them little purses and vanities that they could store their things. Use position words like under, over, around, below, inside, outside, and action words like wrap, cover, hide appear etc 

  • As their motor skills develop children begin moving objects from place to place. They may be observed lifting boxes filled with toys, little buckets, bags and containers. They may use hands to move objects around the house or fill their pockets or pulley trucks and trolleys. They usually dump these things in a pile at a spot in their play area and will be seen repeating the actions everyday.  Caregivers could engage in activities that use tractors, wheelbarrows, trolleys and dumpers to transport blocks, garden stones, seashells, balls, play construction activities where building blocks are transported from a warehouse to site. Treasure hunting color based objects and collecting natural objects during a trek. Make a water route for the paper boat to float. Children must be provided with resources like, drawstring bags, purses, suitcases boxes etc that they could fill and carry. Key words that support transporting schema are in on under empty / full / half full overflowing open / closed


  • Children like to play with beads, rings, strings, ribbons and ropes to join or connect things together. They may be seen tying their toys together and moving them around the house, building a block tower and also breaking it. Suspending things from chair arms and bed rails and untying knots are part of connecting/disconnecting schemas.  Activities that support this schema in children are making paper chains/ bridges, connecting pipes to make hoops, making art using straws, twigs, ice-cream sticks etc. making hurdle tracks by joining cardboard boxes, making beads or junk pieces necklaces. Words that may add to the child’s vocabulary while playing connecting schema pattern games may be build construct join separate together apart flexible rigid bendy stretchy strong fragile knot thread. 

  • Hanging upside down from a handrail, doing monkey rolls or a headstand on bed is just the child’s way of looking at things. Yes! They want to have different viewpoints. Moving in a busy market atop a caregiver’s shoulder is not just thrilling for the child but it makes him observe his environment in a unique way. Best resources to promote orientation schemas are magnifying glass, binoculars, and kaleidoscope, light projectors and even child cameras. Making peep holes in paper, or card boxes to look at objects and materials. Using pipes to see from one end to other, and using stools and stumps to make ramps and high up pedestals are few activities that help build orientation schemas.  Key words to support the Orientation schema Turn Twist Roll Backwards / forwards

  • Children can be particular in positioning, ordering and arranging objects or themselves. At times they may get upset if their toys is moved from the place of their choice They like to line up or stack things as per size, colour or shape in different patterns and order (e.g. on top, next to, in front of, around the edge, beside, behind) of an object or person. Positioning schemas are one of the most common behaviors that begin to develop in toddlers. Their needs of finding order in placing objects in a particular way and problem solving could be catered by activities like building blocks, abacus boards, crayon boxes, stacking and un-stacking objects, balancing objects peg boards to create patterns. Keywords that support positioning schema are inside on top under behind between next to in front. 

Every child is unique and may have a different development path. Understanding the concept of schema in building their imagination, speculation and exploration and independent decision-making may help caregivers to engage in effective and powerful active-learning opportunities that are aligned with their child’s development pace and interests. Only meeting the physical and material needs of the child is not suffice, caregivers must pay attention to their emotional needs by spending quality time with them as children are like wet clay and they are quick to learn and build positive or negative (limiting thoughts, stereotyping etc.) schemas as per the environment and guidance provided to them.

Next Saturday: products that will help in the development and support of schemas Trajectory, Rotation and Enclosing!


Mahek Anand 
Parent, Writer, Events Professional 
A creative person with a bohemian vibe.
Aishwarya Lahiri Khanna is kept on her toes by a 3 year old, and loves to sweat it out in the kitchen, gaining back all calories lost.