The current psychological literature on play is so vast and complex that parents might have a hard time figuring out what's right and what's not.

Laura Richardson, who spent 10 years at Frog Design, has boiled it all down into one playful infographic: The Periodic Table of 21st Century Play.

There are 11 play categories, from morphing to questing and from stretching to creating, and subsets of activities in each. "Play is our greatest natural resource in a creative economy," Richardson writes.

The Periodic Table Of How Kids Play

A former Frog designer visualizes the literature on the importance of play for fostering creativity in children.

It used to be that play was just play. There wasn’t a whole lot to say about it. Kids climbed trees, hit balls, and did experiments on insects. But by the mid-20th century, children’s play was being extensively studied, classified, and taxonomied by pioneering psychologists such as Melanie Klein and D.W. Winnicott. Now the literature is so vast and complex that parents might have a hard time figuring out what's right and what's not.

Laura Richardson, who spent 10 years at Frog Design, has boiled it all down into one playful infographic: The Periodic Table of 21st Century Play. It nicely supplements her in-depth 2010 innovation essay for Co.Design, "The Four Secrets of Playtime That Foster Creative Kids."

There are 11 play categories, from morphing to questing and from stretching to creating, and subsets of activities in each. "Play is our greatest natural resource in a creative economy," Richardson writes. "Someday, rather than measuring memorization as an indicator of progress, we will measure our children's ability to manipulate (deconstruct and hack), morph (think flexibly and be tolerant of change), and move (think with their hands)."

In an era of soul-crushing standardized testing of younger and younger kids, it's critical to import the notion that play helps kids find their inner creativity and become curious and analytical beings. Research such as Richardson's can help stress the importance of "play" in school curricula.

Each column in the graphic is topped with a plus sign, symbolizing that the chart is ever-evolving, and that kids and parents alike should feel free to add their own ideas.

For more about Richardson's research, visit her website.

[Image: Toys via Shutterstock]

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8 Comments

  • I find this very interesting, and will spend some time reading your research. I am curious if there is practical application for parenting, for example, to gleam from this information, or is this really more for academic purposes? Thank you and I truly appreciate your work.

  • Hi Samantha, I absolutely believe there is practical application for parenting. While I am working on a book, an example of the practicality can be found in this blog post:

    http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140417171812-2415111-thinking-with-our-hands-why-it-s-a-superpower-of-play

    And also in an article I wrote for Parents Magazine on The Future of Play: http://www.parents.com/fun/entertainment/the-future-of-play/

    and some other thoughts: When you make up a recipe together and see the results, you are not only creating something new but perhaps learning meaningful failure. When you play a game of touch with found objects you hide in a pillow case you are thinking with your hands, when you ask and enable kids to "design their day" (almost no holds barred from morning to night) they learn rule making for themselves and that they can design their lives, when you go to Goodwill and buy any old machine and then take it apart, you are learning deconstruction.

  • Kelsey Higham

    Where can I read more about the research that went into this infographic?

  • Hi Kelsey,

    You can find out more on my website: http://www.lauraseargeantrichardson.com - i have a section dedicated to the superpowers of play. I have links to all of my articles, included a March 2014 cover story in Parents Magazine on the Future of Play. Each element of play has research behind it, which is currently being wrapped into a book format. For example, take storytelling. I have researched the power of story, but more than that, it's place in our future with interviews from Toontastic and Story Pirates, to name a few. The introduction can be downloaded on the site. Thanks for your interest! Laura

  • Kelsey Higham

    Thank you!

    I'm a student, and I make videogames on the side, and there's very little empirical research on how to design games better. Everything I know is either lessons from people's personal experience, untested hypotheses, or research from a totally unrelated field.

    So, clearly-presented research like yours is delicious and nutritious. I look forward to your book!