What stage of play is your child at? support their play with Play Schemas

Learn to provide the right activities for your toddler to play for longer times. Identify which play schemas he is exploring and get activity ideas according to each one.

Is your toddler throwing everything he can get a hold of? is he getting into every little space he can find and trying to cover themselves? how about placing things in and out of baskets or any container he can find?

Do you notice that you put out toys or activities and he seems to have little interest in them but other children around his age are super into them??

Get Our Guide With Play Activities for Each Schema

When our kids are doing these behaviors sometimes it can get super frustrating. We may think that our kids are being stubborn or are misbehaving because “he won’t stop throwing things” or we get frustrated because we spent so much money and time setting up a sensory bin only for our little one to come, dump out everything and move on in less than 5 seconds.

Is easy to judge our parenting based on how we compare ourselves with the social media world. We might think “how is it that everyone on the toddler posts is setting up these activities that our toddler has little or no interest in? Am I doing something wrong?’

You are not. And it’s totally fine to think like that because is natural. Your child might just not be interested in that type of play at this time and I’m going to show you why and how to change it.

Let’s back up a little… what if I tell you that what we are doing wrong is looking at play the wrong way.

It is important to understand that play is how our children learn, and if they are not interested in a type of activity is because their brain is not interested right now In developing that skill that type of activity Is trying to solve.

When a toddler walks away or is not showing interest any longer in an activity they are not being “difficult”. They instead are showing us signs of brain development. They are going through different stages of play and the activity we have set up is not nurturing, feeding, or addressing the urge they are currently working on.

So how do we address it? Well, let’s start by shifting how we think. Let’s take some time to observe our children’s behavior and identify at which stage of play they are at using the tools and information on this page.

By observing, we can identify and we can provide activities that nurture their current developmental stage.

As parents, we can support these developmental stages by providing activities that are targeted to their current play stage, customize it to their current interests, and redirect the behavior instead of correcting or getting frustrated as we try to stop the urges or behavior.

The urges or behaviors are normal and they actually have a name: They are called Play Schemas. So let’s explore each one and learn how to support your child’s developmental stage with the appropriate activities targeted to the schema they are at now.

For more ways and ideas for each schema, you can incorporate loose parts games at home. I recommend this book to get easy and safe ideas at home. I have it and I love it!

What are Play Schemas

Play schemas are stages of play a child goes through.

These repeated behaviors sometimes may seem a little strange or even irritating to adults, but to the child, it’s a necessary step in their understanding of the world and themselves.

As parents, it is great to understand these schemas so that we can provide activities that match their current stage of play and allow for free play and learning in a healthy and safe way.

Play Schemas are the building blocks for the brain, repeated behaviour that in turn forge connections in the brain, patterns of unfolding, learning and growth.

Nature Play

Each child is different, and some may display more than one schema at a time while others show none at all.

Stages of Play

Types of Play Schemas

Some say there are 6 play schemas while other reports say are 10. I believe the most common ones and useful to understand are 6 of them.

Here is the list of all 6 of them with a description and play ideas you can do at home suitable for each stage.

  • Trajectory Schema: When my child throws everything
  • Positioning schema: The need to align everything
  • Rotation Schema: When my child spins everything
  • Transporting Schema: When my child moves everything
  • Enveloping & Enclosing Schema: When my child wraps everything
  • Connecting Schema: When my child builds and connects everything

Let’s start with the most common (and probably the one that causes the most frustration for parents)

TRAJECTORY SCHEMA | My child throws everything

Trajectory Schema, but I call it the throwing stage. This schema is when children are interested in how they move and how things move.

It should just really be called the “projectile missile schema. You know, when your dear toddler throws things like a projectile missile and everyone around has to duck down to prevent being the target where that toy/bottle/ball ends up!

Common Behaviors for the Trajectory Schema

  • Repeatedly dropping things
  • Kicking or throwing balls
  • Pushing toy cars forward and backward
  • Hitting toys together and “crashing
  • Constantly running around
  • Playing with running water

Play Ideas for the Child who is in the Trajectory Schema

  • Blow Bubbles
  • Make ramps for cars
  • Use sticky tape on the floor to balance along
  • Play with water sensory bins
  • Practice pouring and scooping – with cereal or with water
  • Throw beanbags into buckets
  • Play with balloons
  • Play with a toy basketball and hoop
  • Use hammer and nails
  • Paint with marbles on a tray

Positioning schema: My Child wants to align everything

The positioning schema is when children are interested in aligning and putting toys side by side. You can often find them aligning toy cars, shells, or anything they can find.

Lining up toy cars, standing the farm animals in line next to one another, or placing objects in proper order are all behaviors seen in the positioning schema

Children who enjoy exploring positioning schema may be interested in helping you set the table for a meal. in walking over a balance beam. This schema is alive and well in many adults who may organize their books in alphabetical order, color-coded, or position objects neatly on their desks.

To support this schema and the need for order, provide lots of alignment opportunities with loose parts. “Loose parts are materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, taken apart, and put back together in multiple ways. Loose parts can be used alone or combined with other materials. There is no set of specific directions for materials that are considered loose parts. The child is the direction”.

Play Ideas For The Child Who Is In The Positioning Schema

  • Provide loose part play outdoors with rocks, logs, leaves
  • Add blocks, cars, magnetic tiles, and peg dolls, to the play area
  • Allow free play during art to align colors markers, crayons
  • Provide play with counting bears and allow free play to sort by size, and color, and align in different ways
  • Play over a balance beam
aligning DIY wood peg dolls

ROTATION SCHEMA | My child spins and likes round things

The rotation schema is when children are interested in things that spin or in objects that are circular

Children exploring this schema are interested in things that rotate or that are circular, like objects with wheels and spinning tops. You may find they are fascinated by flipping their toy cars upside down and spinning their wheels over and over. Or if you have a washing machine that is a front loader, they will stare at it over and over.

Sometimes, they are the ones that like to be spinning, so you will often see them running around in circles, or love to be swung around.

Common behaviors for the Rotation Schema

  • Exploring wheels on toys
  • Watching the washing machine
  • Spinning and rolling around
  • Playing with toys that spin
  • Like to spin around

Play Ideas for the Child who is in the Trajectory Schema

  • Use keys and locks
  • Use nuts and bolts
  • Play with toys that have wheels, paint with cars
  • Sensory activities where they can mix things (making potions, soups, mixing colors)
  • Make playdough
  • Bake together
  • Create artwork using toiler paper tubes

TRANSPORTING SCHEMA | My child plays to be the delivery guy

This schema is when children are repeatedly taking things from one place to another, either with their hands or by using something to contain the object like a wagon, a box or a trolley.

This stage can be a hard one at home because that means they are constantly moving things out of place and leaving them in different parts of the house, it is also a great opportunity to teach them to clean up as together you can place items in baskets to be put away.

Common behaviors for the Transporting Schema

  • Transporting toys from one room to another
  • Pushing their toys along the floor in a box or wagon
  • Going back and forth to bring you items from around the home

Play Ideas for the Child who is in the Trajectory Schema

  • Proving your child with wagons, baskets and play trolleys – even a toy shopping cart
  • Adding baskets and containers to divide toys by category
  • Go on a shopping trip to Trader Joes – since they have the little shopping carts
  • Adding gift bags to your playroom that they can place toys inside of them
  • Go on a nature walk using a basket to collect rocks, sticks, flowers etc…
  • Add various buckets to a sensory sand bin
  • Help with the laundry taking the stuff in/out of the dryer
  • Use a sensory bin to transfer tweezers and tongs to transfer items from one bowl to another bowl

ENVELOPING & ENCLOSING SCHEMA | My child covers everything

This schema is when children are interested in wrapping things (or themselves) in fabrics or with tape and paper.

They might not be cold, yet you see them wrapping themselves with a blanket. You could also find them putting their toys inside their t-shirts and playing with you to find them. And when you are cooking, they might even decide to go hide inside the pantry. Lots of hide-and-seek using different things.

Common behaviors for the Enveloping Schema

  • Wrapping themselves with a blanket
  • Wrapping their dolls or toys with fabrics
  • Covering themselves in paint
  • Filling containers with small objects
  • Getting into small spaces like pantry closet

Play Ideas for the Child who is in the Trajectory Schema

  • Add silk fabrics to your play area
  • Provide blankets and other fabrics to allow them to wrap their toys
  • Incorporate containers or bowls with lids to play
  • Provide bowls and cups at bathtime
  • Set up a fort or a tent using a large blanket
  • Explore finger painting and painting with textures
  • Use nesting boxes or share sorters
  • Play with puzzles
  • play with (or DIY) car garages, farm barns, and other enclosures

CONNECTING SCHEMA | My child is Bob the builder or Bob the destroyer

This schema is when children are interested in connecting, building and sometimes later on destroying things

So the neighbor family at the beach had a beautiful sandcastle created and there he goes our little angle and boom! destroy is all out… sorry! or, on a good day, he can spend hours playing with legos, building blocks and knocking them down. Your little one is at the connecting stage.

Common behaviors for the Connecting Schema

  • Often playing with legos, blocks, and magnetic tiles
  • Builds towers and blocks with different objects
  • Enjoys sticking and gluing crafts
  • Tying things together

Play Ideas for the Child who is in the Construction Schema

  • Build towers and knock them down with blocks, legos, even canned food
  • Add sticky tape or glue to the table and add or remove items from it
  • Make necklaces with beads and ribbons
  • Crafts with ribbons, sticks and glue
  • Stack cheerios or pool noddles on a stick
  • Stack sensory bottles and knock them down

positioning Schema

play schemas

Does your child like to align her toys in a straight line? Does he spend hours lining his cars up in a row or find pleasure in creating scenes or displays? Then your child is exploring their positioning schema. The positioning provides early foundations for many key skills and activities, from laying the table and placing shoes under pegs to creating patterns in maths and maintaining neat work in school books.

To support the positioning schema try:

  • Collecting shells and pebbles on the beach
  • Collect sticks in the garden and allow a lot of loose part play.
    See if you can create a symmetrical pattern with your toddler using different loose-part toys.

Our Role as Parents in Play Schemas

As parents, the best thing we can do is observe our children through play and present play activities and opportunities to help them explore the play stage or play schema they are exploring.

Yes, it is annoying when a child throws everything for the hundredth time, or when you find that your things have moved from where you last put them. Celebrate your child’s actions by providing play opportunities to explore, instead!

Play Schemas are a natural part of children’s play and are crucial for development as they are learning how the world around them works.

By spotting and encouraging patterns in your children’s play, and by offering them more ideas or materials, you are helping your children to learn.