My three-year-old son loves to play “Bob the Builder”. He has a hard hat, several “tools”, and always has a project in the works. Currently, he is building an exercise room for his Mommy on the side of our house.
We all know that children love to play. But do we understand the importance of play for our children? It is especially important for children from a hard place.
The question is can you teach them how to play if you don’t play anymore? Are you in touch with your play personality?
Dr. Stuart Brown wrote a book, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul that outlines eight play personalities.
The “joker” play personality represents the most obvious and often the most extreme style of playful parent. It is an inherently fun, silly, nonsensical style of play, and can even be sometimes outrageous. It starts when children are very young, with parents engaging children in ‘baby talk’ and other forms of childishness, and graduates through the years to include the ‘class clown’ and those who enjoy practical jokes and even acting downright foolish.
The focus of this play personality is movement. This includes athletes and those who are most alive when they are on the move walking, running, swimming, hiking, dancing, etc. For those with this play personality, the focus is not so much on winning or losing a game, but simply being engaged in physical activity. The added benefit of this type of play is that these activities are great for the child’s brain and can often give much-needed sensory inputs.
Exploring is the preferred means of play for those with this play personality. Exploring can be physical (as in going to new places) or it can be intellectual (discovering new ideas or information), relational (meeting new people), or emotional (searching for a new response to music, art, or a story).
This play personality enters the world of play through engaging in competitive games with the object of winning. This can be done in a small group setting (i.e., one-on-one with your child) or as part of a larger group (i.e., team sports/games). Those with this type of play personality like to keep score and typically they like to finish on top. However, it is important that the focus remain on the play and the resulting fun, not the winning and losing. For example, a parent can play any number of sports with her child. The parent can also take up a board game (e.g., family game night) or on a limited basis play the child’s favorite video or online game with him or her.
Planning, organizing, and orchestrating scenes and events are what marks this play personality. Homemade movies, amateur music recordings, planning a party, cooking a large meal for the holidays, and so much more. For this play personality, the world is but a puppet and the parent holds the strings. For example, a mom with a large family can recruit all of the willing (and even some of the semi-willing) kids to star in the family’s own production of The Sound of Music.
This play personality is all about assembling and/or maintaining a collection of interesting objects or experiences. Collecting can be done all alone or with others who have similar interests. For example, a parent can engage in play with his child by becoming interested in collecting whatever is popular with kids at the time, or inviting his child to become interested in (and help him expanded) his collection of sports trading cards, Star Wars figures, etc. Likewise, a parent can engage in this style of play with a child that is fascinated in animals and decide to embrace that interest by taking his child to zoos all over the country…or even around the world.
Making things is the focus and source of joy for this play personality. Think arts and crafts of virtually any kind as well as inventing, designing, decorating, and constructing. These creations can be functional, artistic, or simply playful. Whatever the purpose, the point is to create something. For example, a mom can set aside time to help her children draw, paint or design. A dad can invite his child into the garage to help him design, plan, and build play house or toy box.
This play personality focuses on imagination. It may be the predominant personality for those who love to read, write, draw cartoons, or watch movies. Those with this play personality are able to create an imaginative world that can permeate almost any activity or context. For example, the dad who plays basketball with his son in the driveway but rather than focusing on the score or the outcome of the game, transforms the game into a one-on-one contest of Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson. In his best announcer’s voice, he narrates a game filled with astounding plays, tense moments, and heroic last-second shots.
Danielle and I are learning that by playing with our son, we can connect better, help him learn how to self-regulate, help his brain fully develop, and even discipline more effectively.