National Institute for Play

National Institute for Play

The National Institute for Play was founded by Dr. Stuart Brown. Dr. Brown trained in general medicine, internal medicine, psychiatry and clinical research. He first realized the importance of play when studying a group of homicidal males. He concluded that the absence of play could have dangerous long-term consequences.1

Dr. Brown also became aware that the actual science of play was expanding. However, at that time, the play-related research was disorganized and deficient in measuring factors that were clinically easy to observe. It was obvious to Dr. Brown that a larger and more professional organization was needed.

In 1996, he established the Institute for Play which was replaced by the National Institute for Play in 2006.2 The organization is non-profit and their stated goal is to “unlock the human potential through play in all stages of life using science to discover all that play has to teach us about transforming our world.”3

The Board of Directors of the National Institute for Play includes those with knowledge and experience in the non-profit sectors, business and professional sports. The Institute has also set up a Council of Advisors consisting of prominent scientists from many of the science disciplines as well as play practitioners. Their commitment is to increase the knowledge of play through research and by initiating projects. These projects translate into programs and resources that deliver the transformative power of play to the general public.4

The National Institute for Play states “…that as play is woven into the fabric of social practices; we will dramatically transform our personal health, our relationships, the education we provide our children and the capacity of corporations to innovate.”5

There is research data that shows that play is as basic as sleep and that people with play in their lives are usually successful.

The National Institute for Play describes seven different patterns of play:

  1. Attunement Play - When an infant smiles and the mother smiles back, the right cerebral cortex of the brain is engaged in both, their brain waves are in harmony and mutual joy is the result.
  2. Body Play & Movement - Play that is associated with exploratory body movements, such as locomotor and rotational activity, this natural spontaneous activity helps bodily coordination as well as molds the brain to be more resilient and ready for the unexpected.
  3. Object Play - Playing with different types of objects stimulates the brain to develop more than just manipulative skills. Hand and brain were meant to play together.
  4. Social Play - the three subsets are:
    • Play and Belonging is the urge to play with others and be accepted.
    • Rough and tumble play is necessary for the development of social cooperation, fairness and altruism.
    • Celebratory Play is shown in the patterns of people gathering at parties, rock concerts, shopping malls, etc.
  5. Imaginative and Pretend Play - This type of play is the key to creativity and a young child’s ability to create their own unique senses.
  6. Storytelling-Narrative Play – This form of play expands the stream of consciousness. This could be a parent telling a story to a child, a child making up their own pretend story, or stories on and in the media.
  7. Transformative-Integrative and Creative Play – This is the kind of play that is fantasy and transcends reality.6

The National Institute for Play promotes projects that will bring about the intrinsic rewards of play.7 Dr. Brown “…envisions a near term future where all existing scientific research related to human play – currently scattered across a range of scientific disciplines…is integrated and the field of Human Play is a credentialed discipline in the scientific community.”  He also envisions “a longer term future in which the science of Human play enables individuals, parents, teachers, leaders, and organizations to harness the power of play to create transformational differences in their…lives… [and] a future in which public and private sector leaders have used play practices to reform organization policies and create organizations capable of producing innovative products and services.”8

In the fall of 2000, The Institute for Play (IFP) created for PBS The Promise of Play, three one-hour documentaries aired on PBS as a miniseries. The IFP worked with InCA Productions of San Francisco, California. The executive producers were Dr. Stuart Brown and David Kennard. This series explores play through all its many aspects.9

In 2008, The National Institute for Play convened the “First State of Play Science" meeting at Stanford University. By bringing a wide variety of Institute Advisors together, new frontiers of play research and practice were presented.

  • 1. “Our Founder, Dr. Stuart Brown.” National Institute for Play. < > 16 Aug. 2010.
  • 2. The Vision.” National Institute for Play. < > 16 Aug. 2010.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Our Organization.” National Institute for Play. < > 16 Aug. 2010.
  • 5. National Institute for Play. 16 Aug. 2010.
  • 6. “Play Science - The Patterns of Play.” National Institute for Play. < > 16 Aug. 2010.
  • 7. “Personal Health and Well Being.” National Institute for Play. < > 16 Aug. 2010.
  • 8. “The Institute for Play – Vision.” National Institute for Play. < > 12 Aug. 2010.
  • 9. “The Promise of Play TV Series on PBS.” Institute for Play.< > 17 July 2004.