As a mom with a preschooler, I am in awe of how much my daughter’s personality has evolved and surfaced. Everything she does is an expression of the person she’s growing up to be: from how she talks, to how she sleeps, and most certainly how she plays.
The way kids play is naturally based on their personality. For example, my daughter Charlotte, is more laid back and enjoys life at a slower pace - she enjoys more open ended play with minimal supervision. Compared that to my niece, Lee, who is more energetic and focused on order, so she prefers activities that feature specific instructions and rules. To try and gain a better understanding of why kids play differently we looked at the different types of “play personalities” as outlined by Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute For Play.
Dr. Brown narrows it down to eight dominant modes of play; the collector, the competitor, the creator/artist, the director, the explorer, the joker, the kinesthete, and the storyteller. It’s important to note that it tends to be trickier to try and fit younger children into these categories as their personalities and cognition are still rapidly developing. So while we can make guesses as to what play personality they are leaning towards based on our observations of their behaviors, those behaviors are changing as rapidly as their development.
That said, let's delve into these modes of play and see which one resonates with you and your kiddo the most!
🔍 The Collector
A collector is someone who gets their thrill from holding an interesting collection of objects or experiences, anything from coins, toy trains or cards, etc. The simple act of collecting triggers a state of play for this personality. In young children this may manifest as a fascination with a certain theme (i.e they watch/see or must have anything to do with dinosaurs). If you notice that they derive a certain level of joy from each object collected that fits within this theme there is a high probability that they are a collector. This personality type may enjoy this type of play as a solitary activity or may enjoy connecting with others through this shared passion.
🎨 The Creator/Artist
When a person finds joy through the process of creating something, whether it be through visual arts, performance arts or just working with their hands, they are considered to have the creator/artist play personality. Whether they decide to share their creations with the world or keep it to themselves, the goal for this play personality type is to simply create or build.
💪 The Competitor
This personality type derives their joy from participating in a competitive environment (usually through the form of a game) with specific rules or instructions. They enjoy being able to keep score and are in it to win it. The competitor personality can enjoy solitary games or team sports or may even prefer to be a spectator. Usually competitors make themselves known in social settings where they enjoy the challenge of being the “top person”.
🎬 The Director
For this play personality, the act of planning and executing is where they find the most joy. While they may not always be aware of it they gain happiness from having the power to make things happen. They thrive as organizers and as the anchors of their social circles. However, something to watch out for is that they tend to view the world as their stage and the people around them as players in their game.
🧭 The Explorer
Each and every one of us is born with the drive to explore from the moment we enter this world. However, over time that drive for most of us tends to taper off but for some it stays strong throughout their life. It becomes their preferred method of play. There are many ways one can explore, there’s physical exploration where one literally goes to explore new physical places, emotional exploration in search of new feelings, or mental exploration which can be experienced through research of a new subject or point of view.
🃏 The Joker
This play personality plays by acting silly. In social environments they use their ability to make others laugh as a way to be accepted by others.
👟 The Kinesthete
This type of play personality is defined as someone who needs to be constantly moving. Instinctively they are always trying to push their bodies to see how far or fast they can go. While this type of play personality often leans towards participating in sports more, unlike the competitor play personality, they are not in for the competition it is just a way for them to engage in movement.
📖 The Storyteller
Using imagination is how this play personality unlocks the joys of play. A storyteller comes in many different forms; novelists, playwrights, screenwriters, poets, singers, dancers, etc. Whether they are telling a story or listening to one they find themselves fully immersed with the thoughts and emotions of the characters in the story. Because this method of play is in the eye of the beholder, they are not restricted to a specific type of activity. They will find excitement in almost anything. For example they could be playing a game of basketball but in their mind each player on the opposing team is a villain trying to capture the princess who is stuck in the net. While a competitive personality would play the game for the thrill of the win, a storyteller is playing for the excitement.
It’s important to note that this is just one theory of how play is interpreted by different personalities. Other popular options include:the Myers-Briggs personality types or Jungian Psychology tests (the basis of that theory being that symbols can mean different things to different people). The main takeaway here is that everyone plays differently, even if we are all doing the same activity. The outcome is always going to be different based on one's personality because we all derive joy differently.
For example, my daughter who finds her joy in creative freedom, meaning she is the most happy when she is able to color outside the lines with zero adult guidance. Whereas my niece only finds joy in coloring inside the lines as she requires order in her play. There are instances where she refuses to color herself and only allows adults to do the coloring for her because it is important to her that it is done properly. There's no better or worse, just different! And a helpful way to understand our kids just a little bit better.
So, what type of play do you and your little one(s) enjoy?