What is Schematic Behaviour?

What is Schematic Behaviour?

Before we begin to answer this question, it’s important to set out some context.

As parents, we aren’t always aware of why our children display certain types of behaviours. We can even, at times, become frustrated by some repetitive behaviours. But if we take the time to learn why these behaviours occur, we will begin to understand that they are fundamental to understanding our children’s development.

So, what is schematic behaviour (sometimes called schematic play)?

Schematic play often occurs at the toddler stage of development, where we start to see our children push the boundaries of what they are and aren’t able to do. This results in children repeating some behaviours until they understand the outcome. 

The Different Types of Schematic Behaviour

Research suggests that there are multiple and common types of schematic behaviour called ‘schemas’. The schemas are:

  • Trajectory
  • Connecting
  • Transporting
  • Enclosing
  • Positioning
  • Enveloping
  • Rotation

When the behaviours are broken down into schemas, it’s easier for us to spot what kind of behaviour children are exhibiting and how to respond to it. 

Let’s explore the schemas in more detail and some things you can do at home to support your children.


Have you ever noticed that no matter how many times you place food on your child’s highchair tray, they find it amusing to drop things from a height onto the floor? Or, maybe when in their pushchair, they are continuously throwing items on the floor?

You may have noticed that they become mesmerised by bubbles or a ball rolling across the floor.

This is your child exploring their trajectory schema, which involves studying the movement of an object or their own body through the air.

These earlier behaviours will eventually lead to your child being able to throw, catch and kick.

Some things you can do at home to support your child’s development of the trajectory schema may include:

  • Throwing things at a target. For example, having a large bucket to throw items into can effectively support this schema
  • Playing games like tag, where your child has to run away from you in an attempt not to be ‘caught.
  • Pushing or rolling items from a height and seeing how and where they land
  • Using ramps to support the movement of objects


You may well have noticed a time when you’ve seen your child joining things together, building towers or sticking things together. These are all attributes of the connecting schema.

Whilst connecting is all about putting things together; it can also be seen in disconnecting, e.g. when a child builds a tower of blocks and knocks it down again.

This schema helps to support children’s understanding of how things connect and what makes things fall apart. 

Some things you can do at home to support your child’s development of the connecting schema may include:

  • Holding hands or singing songs where you may have to hold hands in a circle
  • Making paper chains together
  • Junk modelling (where large items are stuck together using a variety of materials)
  • Threading (you can do this with beads or pasta)
  • Playing with Lego, Duplo or K’Nex where objects are connected
  • Playing with a wooden railway set where pieces are connected


Does your child often move items from one place to another? Or do they have a habit of moving various objects around in a pushchair, basket or trolley? If the answer is ‘yes’, your child is probably exploring their transportation schema. This is the process of moving one item from A to B.

Some things you can do at home to support your child’s development of the transporting schema may include:

  • Having lots of options for children to transport with, e.g. pushchairs, walkers, baskets and bags, are all great for transporting
  • Allowing your child to help with unpacking the shopping and placing some small items away
  • Gardening and water play are great for transporting, providing children with the opportunity to move water around can provide hours of fun


The enclosing schema is all about children creating boundaries. Have you seen your child creating enclosures for their toys? Or maybe they enjoy joining circular shapes on a page when drawing. This can be a sign of the enclosing schema, which is all about closing things into a fixed boundary.

Children who display the enclosing schema often like to draw faces, placing all facial features inside the circle and the hair and ears outside. This schema supports children’s understanding of items contained within a fixed space, and anything outside is a separate entity. 

Believe it or not, this type of behaviour eventually leads to letter formation. But, first, children need to be able to hold a pen in a fist-like motion creating marks on a page, often circles, before fine-tuning this skill to produce the required circles for ‘o’, ‘p’ and ‘d’. 


Have you ever noticed your child being very particular about arranging their toys? For example, they may line their toys up in a row or enjoy creating play scenes where every toy has a specific place. This can be a sign of the positioning schema. 

This type of schematic behaviour helps support later used skills such as laying the table, placing shoes on a rack, and keeping your handwriting on the lines in a book.

To support this, try collecting items of similarity, e.g. shells or conkers, to see if your child can create a symmetrical pattern.


Den making, climbing into boxes and dressing up in layers of clothing are all part of the enveloping schema.

A child investigating the idea of enveloping may repeatedly drop your keys behind the radiator or open the bin to look inside!

Some things you can do at home to support your child’s development of the enveloping schema may include:

  • Use posting toys, Russian dolls, nesting toys and shape sorters
  • Wrap-up baby bolls in blankets
  • Play doctors or vets with plenty of bandages
  • Make sock or glove puppets
  • Wrap-up parcels (Christmas is great for envelopers!) and use paper, newspaper, string, sellotape and ribbons


Do you ever notice your child continuously turning around in a circle? Or wanting to roll down a hill, or maybe position themselves at the washing machine just watching it go around and around? If so, then your child could be exploring their rotation schema.

Some things you can do at home to support your child’s development of the rotation schema may include:

  • Connect nuts and bolts
  • Spin wheels on cars and bicycles
  • Use screwdrivers and spanners (under supervision, of course)
  • Turning keys in locks and padlocks
  • Draw spirals in the sand or play with finger paints
  • Mix and whisk cake ingredients together

And there you have it! You’ll now quickly identify schematic behaviours and support your child each time.

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