16 Different Types of Play

16 Play Types Encourage Play

Inside: Definition of 16 play types from Bob Hughes and ideas for play materials to encourage variety in the way children play.

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Definition of play:

“Engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.”

Play means doing something for fun, rather than for practical reasons. The beauty of this definition is that there’s no one way to play. Play doesn’t mean just building with blocks or playing with cars. Play is versatile and can be different things to different people. For some people, it’s climbing rocks. For others still, it’s writing. For some, it’s reading a good book.

For example, I love playing board games, making crafts and completing puzzles. My daughter loves to create art. My son loves rough and tumble play.

In my research for Encourage Play, I came across a great resource from Bob Hughes that explains different types of play. Here’s a rundown of the 16 play types:

Symbolic Play

Using objects, actions or ideas to represent other objects, actions, or ideas, e.g., using a cardboard tube as a telescope.

Rough and Tumble Play

Close encounter play which is less to do with fighting and more to do with gauging relative strength. Discovering physical flexibility and the exhilaration of display and it’s friendly and positive. This type of play can burn up a lot of energy.

Socio-Dramatic Play

When children act out experiences, e.g., playing house, going to the shops or going to a restaurant.

Social Play

Any social or interactive situation where the expectation is that everyone will follow the set rules - like during a game or while making something together.

Creative Play

Allows children to explore, try out new ideas and use their imagination. They can use lots of different items, altering something and making something new.

Communication Play

Play using words, gestures, e.g., charades, telling jokes, play acting, etc.

Dramatic Play

Play where children figure out roles to play, assign them and then act them out.

Locomotor Play

Movement for movement’s sake, just because it’s fun. Things like chase, tag, hide and seek and tree climbing fall into this category.

Deep Play

Play which allows the child to encounter risky experiences and conquer fears, like heights, snakes, and creepy crawlies. Some find strength they never knew they had to climb obstacles, lift large objects, etc.

Exploratory Play

Using senses of smell, touch and even taste to explore and discover the texture and function of things around them. An example of this would be a baby mouthing an object.

Fantasy Play

This is the make-believe world of children. This type of play is where the child’s imagination gets to run wild, and they get to play out things that are that are unlikely to occur, like being a pilot or driving a car.

Imaginative Play

Play where the conventional rules, which govern the physical world, do not apply, like imagining you are a bee or pretending you have wings.

Mastery Play

Control of the physical and affective ingredients of the environments, like digging holes or constructing shelters.

Object Play

Play which uses sequences of hand-eye manipulations and movements, like using a paintbrush.

Role Play

Play exploring ways of being, although not normally of an intensely personal, social, domestic or interpersonal nature. For example brushing with a broom, dialing with a telephone.

Recapitulative Play

Play that allows the child to explore ancestry, history, rituals, stories, rhymes, fire and darkness.

These types of play aren’t hard and fast categories that never intersect. In fact, one playtime can include different play types. For example, playing pirates can include rough and tumble play, symbolic play, dramatic play, communication play, social play, fantasy play and imaginative play!

Encourage children to try different ways to play to see which they like. Here are some ideas to encourage play:




















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What are your favorite playful materials for children? Please share below!


Source for 16 Play Types:

Hughes, B. (2002) A Playworker’s Taxonomy of Play Types, 2nd edition, London: PlayLink.

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