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Playful Learning: 9 Play Schemas Every Parent and Early Childhood Educator Should Know

Playful Learning: 9 Play Schemas Every Parent and Early Childhood Educator Should Know

Have you ever watched children play and wondered why they are so fascinated by certain activities?

Whether they're pouring water back and forth or lining up their toy cars in perfect rows, these seemingly simple actions play a crucial role in their development.

Welcome to the world of play schemas! This blog post explores what play schemas are and how understanding them can benefit parents, caregivers, and early childhood educators. Let's uncover the secrets behind these fundamental activities and discover practical tips and toy suggestions to support your child's growth.


The Magic of Play Schemas

What Are Play Schemas?

Play schemas are repetitive, simple activities that children naturally engage in. These actions help them understand the world and develop critical skills. Think of them as the building blocks for learning through play. Children engage in these activities instinctively, driven by an internal need to explore and make sense of their environment.

Importance of Play Schemas

Understanding play schemas is vital for parents and educators because it enables them to provide appropriate opportunities and resources for children. By recognizing these patterns, adults can offer targeted learning experiences that nurture a child's cognitive, social, and physical development.

How to Identify Play Schemas

Recognizing play schemas involves observing children's behaviors closely. Look for repetitive actions and preferences in their play. These patterns provide clues about their interests and developmental needs. Let's take a closer look at nine common play schemas and how to support them with specific toys and activities.


1. Trajectory

What is it?

The trajectory schema involves activities where children explore movement through throwing, dropping, and watching how objects move through a space. This play schema helps children understand concepts like force, direction, and gravity. 

What does it look like?

Children engaged in this schema might enjoy throwing balls, rolling cars down ramps, or watching a ball bounce. They are fascinated by the path objects take and the effects of their actions on these movements.

Encouraging Trajectory Play

To support this type of play, provide opportunities for safe throwing and rolling activities. Set up ramps for cars or balls and create safe swinging and sliding environments. Celebrate their discoveries and help them understand cause and effect. Here are some toy suggestions from Safari Ltd:


2. Positioning

What is it?

Positioning involves arranging objects in specific patterns or sequences. Children might line up toys, stack blocks, or sort items by color or size. This schema helps develop spatial awareness and organizational skills.

What does it look like?

Kids might create elaborate lines of cars or arrange their stuffed animals in a particular order. They are learning about order, classification, and the relationships between different objects. 

Encouraging Positioning Play

Provide a variety of items that can be sorted, lined up, or arranged. Observe their patterns and engage them in conversations about their choices, fostering cognitive and spatial skills. Here are some toy suggestions from Safari Ltd:


3. Enclosing


What is it?

Enclosing involves creating boundaries around objects using materials like blocks, strings, or markers. This schema helps children understand concepts of space, containment, and boundaries. 

What does it look like?

Children may build fences around animals, create circles with blocks, or draw enclosures on paper. They are intrigued by defining and containing spaces.

Encouraging Enclosing Play

Provide materials that can be used to create enclosures and boundaries. Provide a variety of containers and objects to fill them with. Engage in play by demonstrating how to fill and empty different containers and encourage them to create their own enclosures with blocks or other materials. Here are four toy suggestions from Safari Ltd:


4. Enveloping 

What is it?

Enveloping involves covering objects or oneself with materials. Children might wrap toys in blankets, hide under sheets, or cover items with sand. This schema helps them understand concepts of concealment and protection. 

What does it look like?

Kids in this schema might enjoy playing peek-a-boo, wrapping dolls in cloth, or burying objects in the sandbox. They are exploring the ideas of hiding and covering. 

Encouraging Enveloping Play

Provide materials that can be used for wrapping, hiding, and covering. Join in their play by creating games that involve hiding and finding objects and discussing the concept of covering and revealing. Here are five toy suggestions from Safari Ltd:


6. Transporting

What is it?

Transporting involves moving objects from one place to another, often repetitively. Children might carry items in containers, wheelbarrows, or trucks. This schema helps develop motor skills and an understanding of distribution. 

What does it look like?

Children might fill and empty baskets, push carts around, or carry toys from room to room. They are learning about carrying, lifting, and relocating. 

Encouraging Transporting Play

Provide items that can be easily transported. Allow children to transport items within safe boundaries. Offer praise and ask them about their process, fostering language development and organizational skills. Here are four toy suggestions from Safari Ltd:


7. Rotation 

What is it?

Rotation involves activities where children explore circular movements. They might spin wheels, twirl ribbons, or rotate objects. This schema helps them understand motion and cause and effect. 

What does it look like?

Children in this schema might enjoy spinning tops, turning gears, or using a toy steering wheel. They are fascinated by things that go round and round. 

Encouraging Rotation Play

Provide opportunities to explore rotation safely, such as spinning in a chair or using playground equipment. Engage with them by spinning toys together and discussing the movements. Here are some toy suggestions from Safari Ltd:


8. Connecting 

What is it?

Connecting involves joining objects in various ways, such as linking, stacking, or tying. This schema helps children understand relationships and structures.

What does it look like?

Children might build towers with blocks, connect train tracks, or tie strings together, exploring how different items can be linked or combined. 

Encouraging Connecting Play

Provide toys that can be connected and encourage projects that require assembling. Celebrate their constructions and encourage them to explain their creations. Here are five toy suggestions from Safari Ltd:


8. Orientation 

What is it?

Orientation involves exploring different perspectives and viewpoints. Children might look at objects from various angles, hang upside down, or tilt their heads to see differently. This schema helps them understand spatial relationships and perspectives. 

What does it look like?

Kids might enjoy watching objects from below, looking through magnifying glasses, or climbing to get a new view. They are learning about different ways of seeing and experiencing the world. 

Encouraging Orientation Play

Provide opportunities for children to explore different perspectives. Here are three toy suggestions from Safari Ltd:


9. Transforming 

What is it?

Transforming involves changing the state or appearance of objects through actions like mixing, dissolving, or reshaping. Kids in this schema are curious about changing the state of materials, such as mixing, cooking, or manipulating textures.This schema helps children understand the concept of transformation and cause and effect.

What does it look like?

Children might enjoy mixing colors, melting ice, or molding clay. They are exploring how materials can be transformed and altered. 

Encouraging Transforming Play

Provide materials that can be manipulated and transformed. Create spaces for messy play where children can safely experiment with different materials. Join in their play, and discuss the changes they observe, helping them articulate their thoughts and hypotheses. Here are three toy suggestions from Safari Ltd:


Understanding and supporting play schemas can significantly enhance a child's development. Parents and educators can foster a child's natural curiosity and learning process by providing appropriate toys and activities. Recognize and encourage these play patterns to help children develop critical skills and explore their world meaningfully.

 For more play ideas, search our blog and follow us on social media @safariltd for recommendations and parenting play tips. Your child's playful learning adventure awaits! Don't hesitate to reach out to our team of experts at with any questions you may have.


  1. Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development:

  • Piaget, J. (1962). Play, Dreams and Imitation in Childhood. New York: Norton.

  1. The importance of play in early childhood education:

  • Frost, J. L., Wortham, S. C., & Reifel, S. (2008). Play and Child Development. Merrill Prentice Hall.

  1. Schemas in children's play:

  • Athey, C. (2007). Extending Thought in Young Children: A Parent-Teacher Partnership. SAGE Publications Ltd.

  1. Learning through play:

  • Broadhead, P. (2004). Early Years Play and Learning: Developing Social Skills and Cooperation. Routledge.

  1. Developmental benefits of play:

  • Hughes, F. P. (2010). Children, Play, and Development. SAGE Publications, Inc.

  1. The role of materials in play:

  • Elkind, D. (2007). The Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier, Healthier Children. Da Capo Press.

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