Sep 23, 2020

The Importance of Schemas in a Child's Development

Toy dinosaurs

Discover the significance of schemas in early childhood development. Learn how children's play behaviors, interactions, and cognitive processes are shaped by these repeated patterns of behavior. Explore the benefits of embracing and encouraging schemas in children's learning journey.


What Are Schemas? – Exploring Common Behaviors in Children

It’s not unusual for a parent, carer, family member or someone in the wider community who may not have children in nursery, to not know what the term ‘Schema’ means when talking about children and Early Years.

Debunking Misconceptions About Schemas

Often, when we don’t know what a term is or what it means, we assume the worst; “Oh dear, my child has a Schema, how do we fix it?” is a frequent reaction when parents or carers hear that their child might have a Schema. Please be reassured, Schemas are not to be concerned about.

Celebrating and Encouraging Schemas

Schema’s are a very technical way of describing common behaviours that many children have when they are playing. Put simply, a schema is a repeated pattern of behaviour. It encompasses children’s playing, their interaction with others and how they make sense of the world. Schemas are something to be celebrated and encouraged.

Trajectory Schema: Unveiling the Fascination with Movement

A good example is a Trajectory Schema which is a very common Schema in children. Children with it are interested in how things move. They might like to throw things, play with running water, run around a lot and push things in straight lines. Does this sound familiar? It has been found in research that ‘Schemas link to the development and strengthening of cognitive structures (the basic mental processes people use to make sense of information) in the brain.

Our Nurseries’ Role in Supporting Schema Exploration

At nursery, we keep a close eye on our children’s schemas and try to make sure there are things that they can do to explore them. Children are always supported and encouraged to explore their Schemas. This might be blowing bubbles and catching them, having soft balls to roll and throw and playing on the slide.

Embracing Active Learning and Real-World Experiences

Quite often children have multiple Schemas and others have none at all. Each child is different and develops in their own unique way. It is the opportunities for children to go on visits and combine resources and materials, in real and relevant contexts, which makes that crucial difference in the enrichment of a child’s learning. Often, parents or carers discover that they too have Schemas. All of a sudden, they are able to understand more about how they played as a child and maybe learn a bit more about how they behave as an adult.

Celebrate the power of schemas in children’s development, providing insights into their play, cognition, and understanding of the world. Nurture these patterns, promoting active exploration and enriching experiences. By embracing schemas, both children and adults gain a deeper understanding of themselves and their behaviors. For more in-depth information, read Pacey’s comprehensive article on schemas in early childhood education.

Further Reading

If you would like to read more about Schemas, Pacey break it down nicely in an article here.


The images below show the children deep in concentration and enjoyment, with the nursery team providing activities or resources to support them to develop and learn within a specific schema: Trajectory Schema – Rolling the cars up and down; Connecting Schema – Connecting the trains together in a line, dismantling and putting back together; Positioning Schema – Grouping objects together; and Trajectory Schema – Catching bubbles, but most importantly, having fun!!

Blog written by Lucy Swatton – Room Leader at Small Friends Day Nursery

Blog checked by Emma Pittam – Head of Quality and Training at The Old Station Nursery Group

Child playing with toy cars
Child playing with train
Toy dinosaurs
Children playing with soap bubbles

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