Schemas in Early Childhood and beyond!

Hi, sorry it’s been awhile we had a house full of illness ! Ahhhh January ?

So following on from my last blog about brain development and the desire to be on constant repeat I wanted to talk about schemas.

Well what are they?

Schemas in early childhood is basically a term used to describe the urges that children can have to do things again and again and again …

They are the play patterns that all children can develop but not every child is schematic. They may not all display the types of schemas were going to look at but all children love to play and explore the world around them and this is one way in which many children find out their interests and how they like to do things.

What’s interesting is it’s not just through childhood that these schemas are present. Adults have them too and actually how you explored and discovered your world when you were a child is probably still how you like things to be done now.

I’m sure we all have certain patterns of behaviour we may display when organising our own environments…?

Think about it, do you have to have things done in the same way and at the same time? Do you like things to be ‘just so!’ Does it drive you nuts when objects or items are not organised in the correct positions. Maybe you like to have things in lines or size order or can’t cope when pictures are wonky or things are chaotic. You may feel a sense of calm when you can order everything and have a good sort out!

How we demonstrate our preferences through play as a child can follow us into adulthood and these become those habits and routines we just have to conform too in order to give us a sense of well-being.

There is a sense of well-being and grounding we feel when we as adults give into our schemas and this is how it feels for a child. So when they are driving us crazy by frequently emptying cupboards, moving items from one place to the next or carrying around twelve items at once, they are actually making those connections in the brain. Building up their synapses and demonstrating their individual characteristics and well-being through their play.

So what do they look like ?



The endless desire to carry one or normally several objects from one place to the next. The classic transporter will have his/her pockets full of bits and pieces and insists on taking their many random objects with them whenever they go ! If you can’t find your keys and your phone right when you need to leave the house, it’s likely your little transporter has hidden them somewhere ! On the plus transporters can make great tidier uppers so use those skills !

Cath Arnold (Understanding Schemas and emotion in early childhood, 2010) suggests that the physical gathering of materials might also be linked to emotional feelings, having lots of things in your arms and on your person could be a need to demonstrate those big feelings.

There is likely a link between gathering objects and feeling emotional security. Normally schemas can start manifesting themselves around the ages between 2-3 years, as this is a such crucial emotional time for them it makes sense that they will try to demonstrate their ownership over their emotions. This can be through their need to hold onto their belongings and direct their play patterns. There is also a real evolutionary need for us as hunter and gatherers to forage which can bring reassurance.

Enveloping & Containing


So when they just love to cover themselves or objects up ! This one is definitely my daughter she’s such a den builder, cushion piler, putting herself in corners and barricading herself in ! Envelopers also love to dress up in literally every single dressing up outfit imaginable …. at once ! They may do a drawing or painting and then completely cover it over … this again has so many emotional elements .. securing things and themselves. Keeping it safe by protecting it .. I remember once asking a child why they had completely covered their beautiful painting in black paint and they said ‘so it doesn’t get ruined and will always look special underneath’. Which makes perfect sense but at the time I was worrying about the behaviour! Envelopers are the ones who like to take all your pots and pans out of the cupboard and then crawl in there themselves ! ….. they are also the filler uppers of things. 



These children will love anything that spins and love to watch wheels go round and round. Rotators will be the ones sitting in front of the washing machine endlessly watching it go round and round… They may also demonstrate this in their artwork by drawing lots of circles or spirals. They will also love to go on the roundabout at the park and just spin themselves into a dizzy mess ! This is where they will be activating their vestibular system, which is a really powerful feeling and in short bursts is good for their brain development.



When they love to sort items and objects into groups, sometimes you will find them lining up the cars or small world animals in size order and putting everything into very neat organised piles or moving things around to create a desired effect. They will often represent this in their art work and maybe draw repeated patterns in certain ways and they may love building and block play.



So this is the one that I’m pretty sure every child demonstrates at some point as it’s the desire to feel forces. Basically launching objects or themselves. It’s actually very smart as they are exploring physics! They just love to run! 


They will just love to move mostly move up and down running, flinging themselves off furniture and jumping up and down endlessly. They often like to throw anything and everything and can be classic footballers with lots of kicking. They also love to run the taps and watch the flow of water ? so this will be the little one flooding the bathroom on a regular basis!

This is perhaps the most challenging schema but if you notice it in your child you can find ways to help them experience this feeling- more safely and maybe with more appropriate ways than just forever throwing stuff. 

It’s always good to have lots of outdoor activities for these children and opportunities for climbing and jumping.


Schemas in Nature.

There are so many wonderful opportunities to encourage and allow children to develop their schemas in the great outdoors and also this can be a great way of observing where their schemas may lie. Do they just run and run outside or do they like to find natural objects and collect them and position them. Do they love to build dens, hide, or are they just constantly on a spin!

Once we can recognise these schemas and see them in our children we can provide opportunities for them to experience them in a safe way and hopefully it might ease some of the anxieties around some of the often more challenging behaviours. Plus it’s also super for their brains and we love to develop those brains !

‘A schema seems to be a pattern of behaviour that children do over and over again in slightly different ways to help them really understand a concept’. Maria Robinson.

Many artists and architects would have demonstrated schematic behaviour as a child and this would be significant in their style of work, So if your child is displaying Schemas they could be a mini genius !

These famous works by Hirst, Van Gogh and Matisse all display a schematic theme !

Thanks for listening – if you want to know more about Schemas give me a comment below x

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