What Are Schemas?

What Are Schemas?

Your child’s pat­tern of repeat­able behav­ior, or a schema, will rep­re­sent itself in sen­sory or motor, sym­bolic or rep­re­sen­ta­tional, func­tional depen­dency, or thought form.

Behav­ior is a mir­ror in which every one dis­plays his own image.” ~ Johann Wolf­gang von Goethe

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A schema is your child’s pat­tern of repeat­able behav­ior. Under­stand­ing your child’s schemas will help under­stand her per­cep­tions. She may pre­fer to sit under the table dur­ing story time, for exam­ple, as a part of an envelop­ing schema. Children’s learn­ing involves mov­ing from actions to thought, which includes gen­er­al­iza­tion and assim­i­lat­ing expe­ri­ence into pat­terns. Sensory/motor, symbolic/representational, func­tional depen­dency and thought are the four main ways in which a schema rep­re­sents itself. If your child is inter­ested in cir­cu­lar­ity or rota­tion, for exam­ple, she will seek this schema in one or more of these ways. She may seek oppor­tu­ni­ties to form cir­cles using both hands, choose cir­cu­lar shapes, rea­son in terms of cir­cu­lar shapes, or think in terms of cir­cu­lar patterns.

Dis­cover your child’s schemas

Observe your child for the fol­low­ing com­mon schemas: trans­port­ing; posi­tion­ing; ori­en­ta­tion; dab – graphic schema to form pat­terns such as eyes, but­tons or flow­ers; tra­jec­tory; hor­i­zon­tal­ity and ver­ti­cal­ity; diag­o­nal­ity; enclos­ing; envelop­ing; cir­cu­lar­ity; semi-circularity; radial; rota­tion; con­nec­tion; or order­ing.  Make assump­tions about your child’s capa­bil­i­ties and inter­act with her in a more help­ful way. Help her broaden the schemas by offer­ing expe­ri­ences to extend her learn­ing. Give her a pic­nic set, for exam­ple, if she is show­ing inter­est in the trans­port­ing schema and mov­ing cups and plates to her play area. Remem­ber that what you con­sider neg­a­tive behav­ior, such as knock­ing over things, may be a part of a schema.


Smidt, S. (2010). Key Issues in Early Years Edu­ca­tion. Rout­ledge. Madi­son Avenue, New York.