Find Your Play History

Children at Broadway Playfield, 1918


Sometimes it’s hard for us to just get out and start playing. Most of the time, when we grow up, we are so busy with doing things we’re supposed to do that we forget about the things we want to do. Or perhaps we’re so engrossed in one particular type of play (mine is video games and internet) that everything else in our lives gets put on the back burner.

So how do we start? How do we learn how to get moving? How do we learn how to put aside our jobs or our chores or our video games and get playing? There are several different ways, but one of my favorite ways is to do what’s called a “play history”.

What’s a play history?

Dr. Stuart Brown is one of the leading scientists on play and its effect on humans. In his book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, Dr. Brown introduces the concept of ‘play history’. Play history is simply a list of things you liked to do when you were a kid. This list is designed to get you thinking about the things you might love doing now, unfettered by what you feel like you should be doing.

How do I do this play history thing of which you speak?

I’m going to go through this step by step so that you can have a clear view of your play history.

  • Step 1 – Write down everything you can think of that you played as a child or that made you happy – building Lego, swimming at the pool, reading books.
  • Step 2 – Ask your parents or family what you liked to play as a child. Write it down.
  • Step 3 – Go online (either Pinterest or Google or anything where you can search visually) and search “play” and see what photos attract your attention and why. – Don’t think about what you SHOULD like, think about what you DO like. Write anything that grabs your attention down.
  • Step 4 – Think about your dream job. What are you doing in that job? Write that down.
  • Step 5 – Think about your dream life. What are doing in that life? Write that on the list.

How do I use my play history?

Hopefully you have a pretty sizable list by now. If not, you might want to delve a little deeper or ask a few more people. If you’re having trouble with this, feel free to email me or hit me up on Facebook.

What I want you to do now is go through the list and see how many of the things on your list involve movement. It doesn’t have to be a lot of movement, just something where you were up and moving around instead of sitting. Circle or highlight these things.

These are things that you might want to start incorporating into your life. For example, if you put “playing tag” on the list and that sounds like something you would truly enjoy if you were to play it right now, try setting up a game of tag with your friends or kids. Sure, they might think you’re weird OR they might think that’s an awesomely brilliant idea.

What about all the things that don’t involve movement?

There are two things you can do with those.

You can either find some time to do them anyway. Even without movement, play is great for the brain. Just make sure to do them in smaller doses as being sedentary for too long is bad for your health.

The other thing you can do is to find a way to make those sedentary things into movement things. For example, if you like video games, you can play the Wii or you can stand while you play. Or you can do what my kids like to do and pretend you’re an actual character in the game. Go fight a pretend dragon or go shoot some pretend aliens.

There are lots of ways you can turn sedentary activities into active ones. This is where the imagination comes in and imagination makes happy.

How do I implement this?

Really, the only way is to get out there and do it. Do any of these things seem like something you’d like to do now? If I came up to you and asked you if you wanted to play paintball, you would you say “Heck yes!”? If so, then do it! If you need a friend to play it, ask around. Ask your friends, your kids, your partner, your neighbor. Try to set up something on or on Facebook events. If any of them match up with something that I’ve already written about and you’re not sure how to get started, then look it up.

Start small. If you feel like you don’t have the time, money or ability to do the things you want to do, then try a few things that are easy. If you liked playing at the beach, try going for a swim. If you liked playing soccer, then go outside and kick a ball around for a little while. Work your way up to the big stuff.

Or don’t! If you feel like you can, start big! Take a class on rock climbing or aerial acrobatics or sailing. Whatever makes you feel happy and comfortable.

If you’re having trouble implementing this, ask yourself why. What is standing in the way of doing these things? Is it fear? Or other commitments?

Figuring out what is stopping you might be the key to working your way around them. Remember that no matter what, you should always make time for play.




One final note…

Play history can also help you figure out your play personality. When you look at the list you made, there might be a certain theme that becomes apparent. Maybe it involves exploration or competition or risk taking. When you figure out what that theme might be, you may be able to find new activities that would be to your liking.

Go out and explore what you love to do and do those things. Get out there and get moving.

What’s on your play history? Do you spot any themes? Is there anything stopping you from adding play to your life?


Photo Sources: Children at Broadway Playfield, 1918 by Seattle Municipal Archives, IMG_4280 by JEM


4 Responses to “Find Your Play History”

  1. Klaymates Website

    I created my play history and I ended up with a pretty strong list! I would love to find out more about how you use your own play history. I don’t know many people, and my children are still very young (although oldest is able to do some of the things I rediscovered), so I feel a little stuck now that my list is made. It is cool to reconnect with the activities that used to bring me so much joy. I would love to strengthen that connection and work out how to re-incorporate this stuff into my life. For fun, here is my list of movement-based activities!

    walking around science museums
    playing softball
    riding my bike
    bug/plant hunts
    gardening with my grandpa
    caring for animals on grandpa’s farm
    building tree forts with my sister
    climbing trees
    playing hopscotch
    double dutch / solo jump rope
    hula hooping

    • Devyn Website

      That is a really strong list! This is exactly the kind of stuff I was thinking of. There are some things you might have to put on hold for a few years until your kids are a little older, or if you can get someone to look after the kids for an hour or two a week, you can pursue them. Even with your kids around, you can do things like dancing (put on your favorite song and go! kids love that), walking around museums, gymnastics (maybe just a few tumbles or cartwheels if your kids aren’t crowding you) bug/plant hunts, gardening, playing hopscotch and hoola hooping. All those things you can do with young kids around and I bet they would love it. I know my kids love building forts out of pillows and blankets inside the house. Can you start with those things?


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