On off. Up down. In out. Open close. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. And then repeat again.

Sound familiar? There must be something to it…but what?

What it looks like: Baby insists on walking in and out of a gate…over and over and over. Standing up and sitting back down…over and over and over. Opening and closing a book…over and over and over. You get the idea.

Mistaken for: Indecision or not understanding the intended purpose of an activity.

What baby is learning: The fancy word for it is schema (skee-muh), which just means the repetitive behaviours in which children engage to help them learn about the world. Why is repetition so essential? Like all good scientists baby knows that if you’re going to take the results of any study seriously the phenomenon has to be observed more than once, more than twice, more than three times. It has to be observed hundreds, if not thousands, of times to be properly trusted. But that’s okay, because he loves to experiment.

Here are a number of common schemas that baby will experiment with at some point or another:

Transporting (e.g. moving blocks from one room to another)
Transforming (e.g. mixing foods together)
Trajectory (e.g dropping food from high chair to see where it lands)
Rotation (e.g rolling a water bottle)
Enclosure (e.g sitting in a laundry basket)
Enveloping (e.g. hide and seek)
Connecting (e.g. lining toys up end to end)
Positioning (e.g. put all the shoes on a chair)
Orientation (e.g. looks at things with head turned to the side)

Some schemas will be more apparent in baby’s play than others but it doesn’t really matter what a schema is called, as long as you can recognize that he’s learning and not simply trying to drive you nuts!

How to support: Whenever possible, allow baby to engage in his desired repetitive behaviours. If for whatever reason you can’t, acknowledge his learning and try to provide a similar experience at a more suitable time/location. There are tons of great ideas floating around the web for supporting or extending schemas in play. Take a look at the links below or simply search ‘baby schema’ or ‘toddler schema’ and find your own.