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We’ve all been there. Staring in bewilderment as our child repeatedly tips over a cup of water or endlessly hides the remote in the most bizarre places. You’ve probably caught yourself thinking “Why do they keep doing this?!”

The good news is that there’s often a pattern to this seemingly random behavior. And once you understand it, not only does the inner-workings if your little learner’s mind become that much clearer, you’ also gain a precious tool to nurture their development and support their growth.

And it all comes back to a little something called Play Schemas.

What on Earth are play schemas?

Picture this. You’re observing your little one throughout the day and you notice they seem fixated on a specific and repetitive action. It might be stacking their toys over and over, hiding under tables, sitting in baskets or tubs or lining up their toys over and over.

These aren’t random acts of toddler rebellion – they’re your little learner’s way of exploring and making sense of the world around them!

These patterns of repeated behaviour are known as play schemas. They’re the keys to understanding your child’s developmental needs, giving you a peek into their ever-evolving mind. 

When you can make sense of what’s driving these interesting behaviours, not only can you breathe a sigh of relief, but you can also create inviting play activities that will capture your little learner’s interest for more than 23 seconds!

Read the blog: Play Schemas: the secret to a successful invitation to play!

Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed about the behaviour of my own little learners, I think of Ross Greene and the quote “Kids do well if they can.” When your little learner engages in these repetitive behaviours (that are sometimes appear a little mischievous or cheeky at first!) they’re not just playing – they’re communicating. 

They’re letting you in on what intrigues them, what challenges them and where their interests lie. These behaviours are windows to their developmental journey, not problems waiting for solutions.

Spotting play schemas in action

Let’s get practical. Here are some behaviours you might have spotted in your little learner and the play schemas driving them:

  • Throwing or dropping things? They’re investigating the trajectory schema.
  • Spinning objects or themselves? They’re diving into the rotation schema.
  • Moving toys from one spot to another? Transporting is their current fascination.
  • Wrapping things up or burying them? The enveloping schema is at play.
  • Building enclosures or creating defined spaces? They’re dabbling in the enclosing schema.

The list goes on but the fascinating bit? Each of these behaviours is your child’s way of grappling with and mastering different aspects of their environment and setting an incredible scientific foundation and understanding of how the world works!

When we can make these connections between behaviours like transporting their toys all over the house, we can better create playful activities and play spaces that meet our children exactly where they’re at.

For example, when I observed my toddler constantly lining their toys up, I prepared this simple block matching game with a sheet of old cardboard. She loved positioning the pieces into the right spot and also explored early mathematical concepts all through play.

When I observed my toddler enjoying sensory tubs and transferring the bases from bowl to bowl, we experimented by adding tongs and bottle tops for a simple transporting activity in the backyard.

Below are 8 of the most popular schemas. If you’d like to learn more about each one, you can download my FREE Play Schema Cheat Sheet. It will help you connect the behaviours you’re noticing in your toddler with those 8 popular schemas so you can better prepare your play spaces and activities too!

Benefits of making sense of play schemas

When you tap into your child’s play schemas, magic happens.

  1. Deepened Connection: You get a clearer picture of where your child’s at, allowing for more meaningful interactions.
  2. Fostering Development: By supporting their current schema, you’re fueling their cognitive, physical and emotional growth.
  3. Less Frustration: Understanding the ‘why’ behind behaviours can shift your perspective, making parenting a tad smoother.

At the heart of it all, recognising and supporting play schemas is about understanding. It’s about taking a moment to see the world from your child’s eyes and using this insight to foster their innate curiosity. When we approach our children with this understanding, we’re not just decoding behaviours…we’re also building bridges of connection, understanding and love.

So, the next time your little learner seems obsessed with lining up their toys or pouring water back and forth, take a moment. Watch, wonder and engage.

These moments are an incredible window in your little learner’s world.

Spotted any intriguing behaviours in your child lately? Share your observations below and let’s journey together into the delightful world of play schemas together!

And if you’d like more support in unpacking play schemas in your home, you can grab our popular Play Schema Bundle ($39) and turn those mischievous toddler moments into playful invitations your child will actually enjoy for more than 6 seconds so you can see more purposeful independent play!

About the author

Casey is an early years teacher turned homeschooling mum of three who passionate about helping other parents create a play-filled home. She loves adventure days outside in nature and loves a good sensory tub. You can follow Casey on Instagram right here.

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