Schema Theory

We recently discussed how educators document and record play in order to develop a better understanding of each child’s interests, wonderings and curiosities. One of the ways of understanding what is happening under the surface of play is by looking at documentation through the lens of a particular theory. This means educators looking at how a theory of children’s learning can help us to understand what is happening.

One of these theories is schema learning theory.  A schema is a recurring pattern of actions that develops into concepts over time. By exploring schematic interests, children are interpreting, and developing an understanding of, the world around them (Athey 2013). Children of all ages explore schemas like; orientation, transporting, transforming, trajectory, rotation and circulatory, enclosure and enveloping, connecting and disconnecting (Van Wijk, 2006).

Over the past few weeks at Baby House educators have noticed children explore the schemas of orientation, rotation, enclosure and enveloping.

Our youngest children at the centre have been exploring orientation as they explore the different ways resources and their own bodies can exist spatially. Some of our observations have included children:

  • Rotating boxes, face-by-face to explore all six faces
  • Diving into cushions and taking time to explore the upward perspective from this orientation of their body
  • Orienting themselves up high on the couch or on the climbing platform and viewing a downward perspective


Children at Baby House have also been exploring transportation as they move objects from one part of our learning environment to another part. Some children have been using baskets to amass a collection of objects and then transporting while waving goodbye, making an abstract leap to a pretend journey.

Children at Baby House have been exploring rotation as they explore how the wooden cars roll and explore how different elements on our ‘cause and effect’ play stand can rotate.


Enveloping and Enclosing
Children have been exploring enveloping and enclosing as they place objects inside boxes and as they envelop themselves! This usually involves big smiles and a good laugh.

As well as continuing to explore these schemas, educators have noticed that the older children tend to also love exploring connecting and disconnecting (e.g. as they build with various manipulatives), trajectory (e.g. as they explore the trajectory of a ball or a paper aeroplane under different conditions) and transforming (e.g. as they explore what happens when they mix sand and water).

One of the commonalities in all these scenarios is each child’s state of involvement. The EYLF states that involvement:

“is a state of intense, whole-hearted mental activity, characterised by sustained concentration and intrinsic motivation… Children’s involvement can be recognised by their facial, vocal and emotional expressions, the energy, attention and care they apply and the creativity and complexity they bring to the situation” (p45).

It is through this whole-hearted involvement that children can deepen their understandings of their schematic interests.

By recognising schematic interests, educators are able to support children to extend their learning by providing relevant resources, scaffolding their ability to problem solve as they explore these schemas and using language that supports and extends learning.






Athey C (2013). Beginning with the theory about schemas. In C. Arnold & K Mairs (Eds.), Young children learning through schemas: Deepening the dialogue about learning in the home and in the nursery. Retrieved from

Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) (2009). Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia.

Van Wijk, N. (2008). Getting started with schemas: Revealing the wonder-full world of children’s play. Auckland: Playcentre Publications.

Schema Theory
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