The Periodic Table Of How Kids Play

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.CD