The 7 Elements of Play
Facilitator Tips Episode 41

The Seven Elements of Play


This week’s Facilitator Tips episode shares the seven key characteristics of play.

In other words, I want to share a definition of play, particularly as guided by the work of Dr Stuart Brown, the founder and President of the National Institute for Play.


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Many people have grown to understand and appreciate the vital importance of play in the context of human development but may not necessarily know how it is distinguished or recognised when compared to other realms.

Click the play button above to learn more about the elements of play.


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Useful Links & Resources


  • National Institute for Play – check out the work of Dr Stuart Brown and the organisation he established to advance the understanding of and science of play.
  • Science of Play – need more solid evidence that play is useful to the development of human beings – click this link for a bunch of research papers.
  • The 7th Element of Play – don’t be fooled by what was (and was not) written on the whiteboard. As discussed in the video, Dr Stuart Brown identified seven key elements of play, yet owing to limited space, the 7th element (improvisational potential) was not listed on the whiteboard.


Video Transcript


Welcome to Episode 41 of the Facilitator Tips video series.

My name is Mark Collard, I work as an experiential trainer. In today’s episode, we want to focus on the elements of play.

Now in my most recent book called Serious Fun, I talk more about how it’s really critical for us as program leaders and professional educators to take fun more seriously. But for many people when they hear the word “play”, they might have a… maybe not a full understanding of what it actually means.

When I look at the work of Dr. Stuart Brown who was the president of the National Institute for Play in the United States, his research is showing that play is as critical as sleep and nutrition in the development of a human being. That’s really significant.

But play is not something you do. It is actually a state of mind. That’s where the confusion often lies. And so in this episode, I want to go through the key elements of what actually creates an experience that is imbued with play.

First of all, it’s purposeless. It’s a bit like when you’re a kid, and I remember this, I would go out in the morning, play with anyone I found in the street and come back at the end of the day, and my parents would say so what did you do. I often didn’t know. We were just simply enjoying the experience for what it was. There was no particular purpose, no win/lose.

It’s got to be voluntary. If you’re being forced into a situation, it’s possible there won’t be elements of play being present. So you’ve got to want to have to be there.

It’s got to be attractive. That’s one of the reasons that people want to be part of that experience. It’s fun. It doesn’t mean you have to necessarily be laughing but it needs to be attractive enough that you want to be a part of it. My mum is a great gardener, so it takes her nothing to consider going outside and spending a few hours in the pot plants. It’s attractive to her.

Time-free. Have you ever noticed those moments where you look up and go wow, where did the time go? They are moments of play or flow. That’s really critical as an element of play.

Un-self conscious. You’re so absorbed by the experience and that playful moment you’re not even aware of what’s going on around you. And that’s that. Not that you’re unconscious but you’re just not conscious of what’s going on around you or whatever you’re doing at that point in time.

And there’s a desire for it to continue. It’s so attractive you just want it to keep going. That’s a critical element as well.

And then my last-minute tip would be number 7, the 7th element of play is the improvisational ability. If you’re looking to inspire creativity then elements of play are a great way to fuel and drive that desire, because improv kind of just turns up.

So that’s a little bit of information about the elements of play. Look at your own programs to understand how many of these elements are present because the powerful part is that it’s disarming, it’s fun.

And now there’s a lot more that I will share in the show notes. To find more about that go to www.playmeo.com Episode 41. And naturally, if you’ve got some comments or other things to share, leave a comment.

Otherwise, I look forward to seeing you in the next episode. Bye for now.


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