How can I provide stimulating play opportunities for my young child?

Since I wrote my post on Helping my child learn to read here
I am aware that I should also write a post about developing other skills through stimulating play opportunities.

I remember when a Health Visitor told me that because my son wasn’t crawling and went straight to standing and walking, he would not be good at Maths. What?? I then spent months trying to get my son to crawl! Well that didn’t work! He was so heavy that it was just easier for him to stand up and walk. All he wanted to do was run! I have read about the benefits of crawling and how it is a vital stage. see more here but I’m not sure about it just being good for Maths! I understand what my Health Visitor was trying to say but I did worry for a while which was not needed.

When my children were young, I noticed a difference in the way my daughter and son played during the toddler years (aged 18 months to 3 years old). My daughter enjoyed putting things in bags, my son would line things up whilst they both loved to push wheeled toys and prams. These differences were clear to me as I am a teacher with a specialism in the Early Years but many parents think of these differences are just part of their child exploring or of their child’s gender. However, there is more to these behaviours that you may think! They are called Schemas and it’s useful to understand them so you can understand your child better. In this post, I will give you lots of play ideas to link to each schema which you could try with your toddler at home.

What is a Schema?

Schemas are described as patterns of repeated behaviour which allow children to explore and express developing ideas and thoughts through their play and exploration. The repetitive actions of schematic play allow children to construct meaning in what they are doing. Knowing about schemas can really help educators and parents discover what a child loves to do and challenge them using what they love. By understanding schemas, parents can recognise and support these urges and developments. It is also helpful to know that your child is not necessarily being naughty when they throw their food all over the floor!

Lining things up or taking lids on and off things.

This is known as a Connecting or Containment Schema.
Give your child lots of different sized pans, pots with lids, spoons and spades in the sand or water. With supervision, try a tray of lentils, pasta or dried peas for variation. They may also like shape sorter toys, handbags of different sizes, boxes of different sizes to put themselves or toys in, painting boxes around shapes and drawing around objects, their hands or stencils. They may enjoy threading ribbon in the fence or using thread to connect things together.

Wrapping things up, getting into small spaces (this is the one where you find things in your dishwasher or CD player!)

This is called an Enveloping or Enclosement Schema.
Try den making, providing different sized boxes and blankets to play with. Add soft toys of different sizes so that your child can add these in their beds etc. Dressing up clothes for themselves or for their dolls/teddies. In my experience, the dressing up clothes that are adult sized are the best (oh! and shoes!). Being able to paint themselves (use coloured water!) or try hand/feet painting. Children may also like to cover their paintings in one colour after they have painted it! This is typical behaviour and they are not “ruining” their picture! They may also like to bury heir hands and feet or hide their faces.

Throwing things, jumping off things or pouring and filling objects.

This is called a Trajectory Schema.
This can be a hard one as the child likes to throw things whilst they investigate forces! Take them outside and let them throw pine cones and balls. They would love a slide or hill to run down. Set up targets or play skittles. Invest in a trampoline (with a net guard) and let them bounce! Play in the bath or with a garden hose pouring water and letting it dribble between fingers and toes. Play with water or sand wheels in a tray of water or sand. Dribble paint all over a page. Play with guttering and old pipes outside in the rain or mud.

Pushing prams, buggies and wheeled toys. Taking toys from one place to another.

This is called a Transporting Schema.
This is a very common one. Let children push prams around (boys too! This is nothing to do with gender) or wheeled toys. Toddlers love to transport things from one place to another. It could be anything, so keep jigsaw pieces or more precious toys packed away! Let them have a box of “bits and pieces” like soft toys, blocks, real spoons, natural materials like stones (not too small for fear of choking), pegs, plastic cups, plastic fruit and vegetables. Let them transport these from place to place. Make it imaginative by adding places such as the supermarket, a car wash…whatever your child likes. Let them play with diggers, buckets, spades in the sand tray.

Rolling down hills, spinning, winding things up.

This is called a Rotational Schema and again, can be a tricky one.
This is a little more unusual. Your child will like to spin on the spot or continually wind things up. Invest in some cheap wind up toys and have a basket of them. When I led a Nursery, I would find old watches or real items and have a box of those! Again, best to get them outside and ride bicycles or wheeled toys. A wheel barrow is another good toy for this schema. Take them to the park and they would love the swings or roundabout. Try roller painting with giant DIY rollers (again, you can use coloured water if you can’t stand to have paint in your house!). The painting rollers are also great fun with water on a dry wall and this action is fabulous for developing arm and hand muscles!

Mixing sand and water, playing with food and making mud pies

This is called a Transformation Schema.
Transformation schemas can be messy! They are when a child likes to mix things together to see what happens. This may be paint, mud, food, water, sand….poo. It’s our job to help a child find the things that are more acceptable! Let them experience cooking, the elements (like rain on their skin), make mud pies, petal potion, mix sand and paint, glue and glitter. Plant seeds. Dig holes. Make paint messes and let them use their fingers to feel the paint.

I hope you have found this post useful.
This site is amazing….click Here for more ideas.
I have lots of other ideas on my Pinterest pages which you can found at Sophie (oldhouseintheshires)

My Random Musings

Lucy At Home

One Messy Mama
The Tactical Mummy


  • Im am wondering how these schemas reveal what their later potentials might be. Are they a precursor to later cognitive development?

    • No, I dont think they are. I think of them as a right of passage through childhood! Although some are in some child’s behaviour and some are not. They are really interesting to study actually. x

  • As a former registered child minder I know exactly where you are coming from I have written several posts on activities for children and child led play #mudpiefridays@_karendennis

  • This is very well research and informative. Thank you very much. My girl loves to spin in the same spot and my boy loves to throw himself on the floor – thinking he is invincible even on the concrete floor! He never learns! lol! #BloggerClubUK

  • I’m an Early Years teacher, and this is spot on. I find schemas really interesting too, and it’s amazing how many of the little things we don’t notice as parents, or as you said put down to gender (a topic that really irks me!). Brilliant and informative post. #BloggerClubUK

  • This is really fascinating and I had no idea about any of it. Never heard of ‘schema’ before. Thanks for sharing it with us all. #FamilyFun

  • Not heard of schemas before so interesting read, thanks for sharing your knowledge! #ablogginggoodtime

  • What an informative post; I dabbled with schema way back when I studied A level psychology, but had completely forgotten they existed! It’s amazing the many and varied ways children respond to their environment and learn. Thanks for all the tips and ideas, will definitely be trying some of these with my son 😊 #BloggerClubUK

    • Ah that’s great! It’s easy to think children are being annoying when actually our mums are right when they say, “it’s just a phase!’ Thank you for commenting. 😍

  • This is so insightful. It explains a lot about how my children play and gives me some great ideas for stimulating them, which I sometimes struggle with as they are still so young. So thank for this, I would efineitly be pinning to revisit. Thanks for sharing at #familyfun

  • You know what these health visitors sure do speak before they think sometimes I feel. Thank you for the introduction to schemas and activities to try out. #ablogginggoodtime

  • Hey there! My 5 year old son has autism and we live in the states. I found this VERY interesting as he LOVES doing just about ALL of these activities and he ALWAYS has…Starting with the line-ups. That was one of the first signs of autism. He would line up all of his blocks or toys, etc, Now that I think about it, he doesn’t do that as much as he used to, unless we are stuck at a Dr.’s office or something like that.
    Next he loves to get into a small space-like a laundry hamper or even the dryer (ugh) or wrap himself into a blanket! He had a tent, but he broke it. He seems to prefer the hampers.
    Let me see, the most of all he loves water! Anything Water! He will play in the tub for hours! he has flooded our kitchen and bathrooms playing in the sinks and toilets! We have tried water sensory tables, but he isn’t interested in them. The water must be running water!
    Do you have any suggestions for him?
    So sorry my comment went on & on!!! I’m always on the look out to help Nathan! (That’s my son’s name! )

    • If you prefer I can contact you by email? Leave me your details if you would prefer to chat privately. I have worked with children with Autism. x

  • This is really interesting. My 2yo LOVES to hide – under cushions, in the cupboard under the stairs, in my bed. She also really enjoys dressing up. I had never really thought that these two things were connected so that has really got me thinking! Thank you for such an informative post #blogcrush

    • It IS interesting isn’t it? I think we forget so,times that children have these urges as a part of childhood rather than because they are being annoying! My daughter always used to empty everything onto the floor which became very tedious! Glad you liked it Lovely. X

  • Let me see, the most of all he loves water! I found this VERY interesting as he LOVES doing just about ALL of these activities and he ALWAYS has…Starting with the line-ups.

  • Great post. Fascinating to see it broken down like that, thank you. My girl (3) has an avant-garde approach, she combines the schemas – transporting sand, water, paint in buggies and scooters all while spinning around, she’s also perfected how to wind ME up! #globalblogging

  • Such an interesting and informative post. Am sure it will help loads of parents! Thanks for sharing with #GlobalBlogging

  • This is so interesting! I really enjoyed reading this post, I think Bear likes a connecting and pushing schema so will have to try some of the play you mentioned : ) Thanks for sharing with #globalblogging!

  • Wow! I can’t believe how similar our children are! My son also went straight to walking, which provided endless hours of worryujg on my part, even though I am an early childhood educator, as well!
    Thanks for organizing these types of play, as we as parents don’t always know the depth to these play experiences when children are exploring the world around them. 😊

    • oh really? how funny! Yes, he is 15 now and is fine with maths so I worried for nothing……but we do that as parents don’t we? He never crawled and is now playing national league hockey so he was just really happy to be up and running! xx
      i’m glad you liked the post. Thank you for commenting. xx

  • This is a very interesting read. My son does a lot of repative behaviour and as he is slightly behind in his development I’ve been worried. Thank you for sharing and linking up with #TacticalTuesdays

  • How on earth is crawling linked to maths?! I crawled and am rubbish, my sister didn’t and she studied economics! Anyhow – I loved reading about all the different schemes and it has given me lots of ideas on how to encourage them! Now I know why he is obsessed with his dolly pram and rolling down slopes! Thanks for supporting #TacticalTuesdays xxx

    • I know right! I think it’s to do with perception -shape, size etc. Anyway, I’m glad it could be of use. I love new linkies. Good luck with it.x

  • This was so interesting to read and I’m definitely gong to be exploring all of these things with my daughter (16 months) who is showing many different schemas currently. Thanks for writing this!

  • Very interesting post. I love reading about play opportunities, I work in a school so always an enjoyable read.

  • A great post on leaning play. I’m looking forward to watching my youngest develop through learning play #TacticalTuesdays

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