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Patterns in play

Updated: May 16, 2020

By Jennifer Sablinskis

Patterns of repeated behaviour are called Schemas. These patterns allow children to explore and develop their play through their thoughts and ideas. Schemas are a natural part of children’s play and development and help explain why some children show such persistence and determination to do things in a certain way.

By spotting and encouraging patterns in your children’s play and by offering them more ideas or materials, you are helping your children to learn. There are several different Schemas. Below are some ideas to try with your children for each schema they may be exploring in their world.


Creating lines in space by climbing up and jumping down or dropping items from up high.

  • Throwing at a target

  • Chasing games like tag

  • Pushing a toy off the table and seeing where it lands

  • Roll cars or balls down a ramp or postal tube

  • Water poured into a river dug in a sandpit

  • Bubbles

  • Paper planes

  • Spin and twirl ribbons

  • Wooden railway

  • Cars

  • Balls


Lining items up and putting them in groups.

  • Peg boards to create patterns

  • Hide n seek

  • Balancing objects

  • Stacking and unstacking


Adding boundaries to play areas e.g. fences around animals

  • Hide n seek

  • Tents, tunnels and cardboard boxes

  • Shoe boxes to make homes for small world toys

  • Create burrows in wet sand, clay or playdoh

  • Make a zoo or farm play area using twigs, blocks, bark, icypole sticks for fences, bridges and walls to create boundaries


Setting out and dismantling tracks, constructing, joining items together with tape or glue.

  • Holding hands

  • Paper chains

  • Collage and junk-modelling

  • Threading beads or pasta

  • Lego, Duplo, octons, connecta straws

  • Sticky tape, glue, stapler (under supervision!), blu-tack

  • String, wool, ribbon

  • Wooden railway

  • Peg washing on the line

  • Connect plumbers piping

  • Dress up clothes with different fastenings i.e. velcro, hook & eye, press studs, zippers


Carrying or moving items from one place to another or carrying items in containers or bags.

  • Wheelbarrows

  • Buckets

  • Bowls

  • Baskets

  • Bags

  • Shopping trolley

  • Pram

  • Play food

  • Picking produce from your veggie garden

  • Nature items such as acorns, pinecones, pebbles, shells, autumn leaves

  • Droppers and syringes for science experiments or colour mixing


An interest in positioning themselves or objects in different places or positions e.g upside down or on their side.

  • Hang upside down from monkey bars

  • Lie flat on the floor when playing with toy vehicles

  • See the world from atop an adult's shoulders

  • Binoculars and a magnifying glass

  • Put mirrors on the floor to explore different ways of looking at materials

  • Cut a picture or drawing in half and hold it up against a mirror to discover a complete picture in the reflection


Enjoys spinning items round and round. Likes to run around in circles or being swung round.

  • Connect nuts and bolts

  • Wheels on cars, trains and bicycles

  • Twirl streamers

  • Use screwdrivers and spanners (under supervision!)

  • Make pinwheels

  • Turn keys in locks and padlocks

  • Draw spirals in sand or with finger paint

  • Mix and whisk cake ingredients

  • Make a spinning top - wind and twist them on the swing and let them spin fast to unwind

  • Borrow a turning table or Gonge carousel from our collection


Covering themselves or objects completely. Wrapping items up or placing them in containers.

  • Use posting toys, Russian dolls, nesting toys and shape sorters

  • Wrap up baby dolls in blankets

  • Play doctors or vets with plenty of bandages

  • Make sock or glove puppets

  • Wrap up parcels and use paper, newspaper, string, sticky tape, ribbons. Play pass the parcel

  • Old envelopes

  • Dressing up

  • Make a den or cubby

  • Borrow a Body Sock from our collection


Jennifer is a mother of two boys and a Maroondah Toy Library member. She has worked in Children’s Services for 14 years specifically with children on the Autism Spectrum (ASD) and other disabilities as an ABA educational & behavioural therapist and integration aide both at home, kindergartens and schools. 

She holds a double degree from Deakin University in Arts & Health Sciences majoring in Psychology, Disability Studies, Linguistics & Exercise Behaviour. 

She is passionate about toys, low waste and teaching children with additional needs, helping them learn new skills. 

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