What does play look like?

Bob Hughes’ 16 play types, illustrated by Alejandra Gomez

by Elizabeth Moreno

No one had to tell us how to play as kids. We just…did it. But as adults, defining what qualifies as play is a trickier task — so complex that it has become an area of research. The “playwork” field can be studied to masters and PhD levels. Leading playwork theorist Bob Hughes has identified 16 different types of play. You can read more about these types in his 1996 book A Playworker’s Taxonomy of Play Types, London: PLAYLINK, UK.

Symbolic Play — “play which allows control, gradual exploration and increased understanding without the risk of being out of one’s depth.”

Rough and Tumble Play — “close encounter play which is less to do with fighting and more to do with touching, tickling, gauging relative strength. Discovering physical flexibility and the exhilaration of display.”

Socio-dramatic Play — “the enactment of real and potential experiences of an intense personal, social, domestic or interpersonal nature.”

Social Play — “play during which the rules and criteria for social engagement and interaction can be revealed, explored and amended.”

Creative Play — “play which allows a new response, the transformation of information, awareness of new connections, with an element of surprise.”

Communication Play — “play using words, nuances or gestures for example, mime, jokes, play acting, mickey taking, singing, debate, poetry.”

Dramatic Play — “play which dramatizes events in which the child is not a direct participator.”

Deep Play — “play which allows the child to encounter risky or even potentially life threatening experiences, to develop survival skills and conquer fear.”

Exploratory Play — “play to access factual information consisting of manipulative behaviours such as handling, throwing, banging or mouthing objects.”

Fantasy Play — “play which rearranges the world in the child’s way, a way which is unlikely to occur.”

Imaginative Play — “play where the conventional rules, which govern the physical world, do not apply.”

Locomotor Play — “movement in any or every direction for its own sake.”

Mastery Play — “control of the physical and affective ingredients of the environments.”

Object Play — “play which uses infinite and interesting sequences of hand-eye manipulations and movements.”

Role Play — “play exploring ways of being, although not normally of an intense personal, social, domestic or interpersonal nature.”

Recapitulative Play — “play that allows the child to explore ancestry, history, rituals, stories, rhymes, fire and darkness. Enables children to access play of earlier human evolutionary stages.”

These illustrations and descriptions also appear in Playground Ideas’ “Teacher Training Manual.” The manual covers a basic introduction to the importance of play in education with a specific focus on common challenges students and teachers in the developing world face. It is a guide to help teachers utilize the resources and play traditions within their own culture to support play both inside and outside the classroom.

Playground Ideas is a non-profit organization that equips anyone, anywhere to build a stimulating space for play using only local materials, tools, and labor. Through our open-source website and DIY plans, we have supported over 950 communities from Azerbaijan to Zambia to build play spaces, impacting over 475,000 children.

Build a playground, anywhere. www.playgroundideas.org

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