Your Play Personality and Why It Matters

Discover your play personality and unleash your childlike sense of wonder and fulfillment.

Boy looking through telescope in desert
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Have you forgotten how to play? Discover your play personality, based on the book Play: How is Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Dr. Stuart Brown of the National Institute for Play.

What is Your Play Personality? – Take Our Online Quiz

Why Play Personality Matters for Parents

Before you can connect with your children, re-connect with your inner child.

At the National Institute for Play, Dr. Stuart Brown researched the many different ways to play, and defined eight distinct “play personalities” that parents can cultivate in their own lives and share with their children to build lasting family connections.

Discovering your play personality helps you personally refuel, while simultaneously elucidating how to better engage your children in play. Children can easily dive into the euphoria of play, but what about adults? Play doesn’t have to be silly or frivolous to be meaningful.

Sometimes parents feel guilty for playing,  thinking their efforts should only be spent on more functional aspects of life. Often the demands of daily living sap energy and time for play. But there are biological reasons EVERYONE needs play – it keeps your brain young, and creates more joy and fulfillment in your life.

People tend to have preferences for one type of play over another. Most people have elements of multiple play personalities, so don’t define yourself by just one. As you read the types, think of several which resonate most with you.
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The Eight Play Personalities Defined for Parents


Woman making puckered lips face in B&W
Photo Corie Howell|CC

The Joker Parent

Your play always revolves around some kind of fun nonsense. You enjoy practical jokes or always have a joke to tell to entertain those around you.

Joker parents are extremely playful. They delight infants and toddlers with their silly faces, baby talk babble, and goofiness. When children become stressed or agitated, the joker parent is there to liven up the situation and establish connection through shared laughter.

  • Tip: Try a family improv night to connect your family through humor.  If your child doesn’t enjoy humorous play, make sure your sensitive to  incorporate silliness on their timeframe and developmental level.  Things that are funny to toddlers, often aren’t that funny to preschoolers, and especially teens!


Man Diving Through Air

The Kinesthete Parent

You feel playful when you are moving, whether that is through athletics, yoga, dance, or even jumping rope. You may like competition, but as a kinesthete the goal of these activities is just pure enjoyment of movement.

Kinesthete parents engage their children in physical activity by going for a hike, swinging at the park, and simply playing chase in the back yard. Children benefit by the increased physical activity and sensory input necessary for brain development.

  • Tip:  Maybe it’s time to sign up for a dance class or have a family dance party, or jump on a trampoline together!  If you have a child with a low sensory threshold, try to accommodate their needs by learning to wind-down play before they become over-stimulated.
Steampunk spaceship and pilot wearing flying goggles
Photo stephane|CC

The Explorer Parent

You love to explore new places or gather new experiences through research or diving into different points of view. You may also desire to explore your feelings through music or movement.

Explorer parents engage children intellectually (visiting the local art or children’s museum), physically (traveling to new places and tasting novel foods), and emotionally (sharing music, art or literature.) Parents connect with their children by sharing experiences together.

  • Tip: Plan a “Mystery Trip” for your family where you explore a new region of your hometown. Keep the destinations a surprise, and have the children guess along the way.  You’ll create lasting memories, and learn something new about your region.  It’s also important for explorer parents to know when to stop with the novel, and focus on the simple…so mix it up when you sense your child needs to switch to another type of play.


Photo mazboot|CC
Photo mazboot|CC

The Competitor Parent

You like specific rules and playing to win. You feel exhilarated when competing on a sports field, in the board room, or even competing against yourself.

Competitor parents enjoy playing with their children through competition, such as family board game nights, or coaching and participating in sporting events together. The focus of play is challenging each other to create connection in a positive manner.

  • Tip:  If your child doesn’t enjoy competitor play, make sure you take time to understand his/her play personality and find a balance.


Director Play Personality

The Director Parent

You enjoy organizing and planning events. You love being the one in charge and planning out others’ roles.

Director parents bring families together by orchestrating events. Play revolves around organizing the intricate details of a social outing or event, and including family members into the production. Children benefit by learning organizational skills critical to executive functioning.

  • Tip:  Volunteer to Coach your child’s sports team. Plan a family talent show, and let each child contribute their talents to the production.  And remember, after directing, take time to ENJOY the activity together….learn when to let the details go, and focus on the family.

Collector Play Personality

The Collector Parent

You play by hoarding most interesting objects or experiences. You may travel the world to collect cultural experiences, or surround yourself with objects like clothing, equipment, or memorabilia.  You own interesting objects — like the latest technology gadgets or collection of designer purses, and also enjoy collect interesting experiences, like traveling to each continent.

Collector parents connect with their child by gathering experiences together. For example, if their child is fascinated by trains, a collector parent may engage them in play by visiting train museums, purchasing a wooden train set, or scouring the library for train books to read together.

  • Tip: Children often get frustrated when they can’t “play” with an adults treasured collection, but you can start a special family collection together with your child….and keep your own treasures safe!


Man Dressed as Robot
Photo benhusmann|CC

The Artist/Creator Parent

You love to make things — something beautiful, something functional, or even something silly. You may never show anyone your creation but the intrinsic joy is found in the act of making.

Creator parents are artsy and craftsy, makers, builders, and inventors. Whatever the play, the joy is in creating something new. Children learn to express themselves through making a mess and creative problem solving, when their parents include them in artistic play.

  • Tip: Connecting with young children is typically easy for the Artist Parent.  Decorate cookies. Build a birdhouse. Sew a costume. Make messes and invent together.


Photo Jonathan Hobin|CC
Photo Jonathan Hobin|CC

The Storyteller Parent

Your play focuses on imagination, and you may love to perform or write. You immerse yourself in literature and movies, and enjoy feeling the emotions and experiences of the characters.

Storyteller parents make the world magical for children and open their imaginations through sharing the arts and language. Children are immersed in a world of emotions through the characters and experiences their parents create.

  • Tip: Make cleaning the house a “Battle against Dirt,” or Use expressive voices when reading together, or listen to jazz and describe what you feel. Sharing what you feel through various art forms helps children develop language & literacy skills and social-emotional skills.

Make play a priority for your family be embedding play experiences into your everyday routines, or carving out time on the weekends. As Dr. Brown has found, you don’t need to play all the time for fulfillment, but the beneficial effects of true play can make you more productive and happier than anything else you do.

Get out there and play!
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Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul

by Stuart Brown, MD

Research on the Science of Play. Play isn't frivolous; it's essential.

The National Institute for Play Website