Play schemas are repetitive play behaviours that we see typically in infants and toddlers.
Play schema behaviours describe a lot of infant and toddler behaviour such as;
- throwing food off of a high chair,
- snatching a toy from our sibling,
- collecting random objects around the house,
- wanting to push trolleys and prams,
- wanting to line toys up in order,
- wrapping objects up in paper.
I'm sure you're nodding at one or two of those behaviours right now!
We all use repetitive play schema behaviours to learn and develop. That's how we now know how to assemble an Ikea flat pack. It's how we know how to make a sandwich, wash the dishes, put our clothes away.
It's through engaging repeatedly with many of these play schemas that we put all of our throwing, moving, folding, lining up, play behaviours into useful and developmentally appropriate action.
I work in a lot of kindergartens and I can see the children that have either not played enough through these play schemas, or been rushed through these play schemas, then finding it challenging playing at kindergarten with their peers.
It's very important that we address all of these play schemas when children are infant and toddler age as best we can, so that they don't feel overwhelmed in group play experiences when they start kindergarten.
One client that I've recently been working with likes to throw plastic pretend food across the classroom floor. Rather than being able to play with this food in an imaginary way, or a dramatic play way in the kitchen area, this child likes to throw plastic food across the floor, repeatedly.
This play schema behaviour can be very frustrating for this child's peers, because while they're busy trying to create an imaginary cafe or supermarket, this child is flinging the toys around the room.
It can also be quite nerve-wracking for children playing around him so we are encouraging him to throw different objects (soft balls) towards a target, or aim some of the plastic food into a basket.
We're still providing this child with the play schema called trajectory, but we're trying to navigate his play into a more age appropriate and socially appropriate style of play.
If children want to throw objects repeatedly, try to encourage children to specifically aim objects down or towards a target:
- roll marbles down a marble run,
- place the car at the top of a car track and watch it whiz its way back down,
- roll balls down plastic plumbing pipe.
We want to support their interest in this trajectory play schema - watching objects move across space. However, we want to provide play opportunities in a more socially appropriate way.