One thing that a lot of therapists get hung up on is what toys to have when conducting a play therapy session. In this post, I’ll discuss the three categories of toys, real life/nurturing toys, aggressive toys, and creative expression toys, and some important toys to have in each category.
Real Life/Nurturing Toys
- Blocks: Blocks are a great tool to have in a playroom. I personally like to use Melissa and Doug’s cardboard blocks since they are durable and less likely to injure you or the child if they fall down or are thrown at you. I find that blocks spur a lot of creativity in children and can easily become whatever their imagination desires.
- Puppets: It’s helpful to have a variety of puppets, including animals and people. I highly recommend having a few aggressive puppets, such as a dragon or dinosaur. I also have a turtle puppet that is frequently used in my play therapy sessions. No matter what puppets you have, it’s important to have puppets whose mouths are not sewn shut. Children give voices to puppets and it can be difficult for communication to take place when the mouths are sewn shut.
- Dollhouse: A dollhouse is a very important item to include in the playroom. The dollhouse allows the child to communicate about what happens, has happened, or what they wish would happen in their home environment. I recommend having a dollhouse that is gender neutral and durable, such as a wooden dollhouse.
- Baby Doll: A baby doll is a great item to have in your playroom. Children are able to communicate a large amount of information through their play with dolls. Children are able to communicate their perspective of themselves, their families, how they view younger children, and nurturance through their interaction with baby dolls. Play therapists should take into account the diversity of the society that we live in and have baby dolls that are multicultural.
- Baby Bottle: A baby bottle is a perfect toy for when children to communicate regression. It is recommended that the play therapist sanitizes or rotates the nipples on the bottle so that children can “be a baby.” Children appreciate being able to “be a baby” without the typical negative reaction they may get from adults and other children outside of the playroom.
- Animals: Children can use animals in both traditional and non-traditional ways in the playroom. It can be less threatening for children to demonstrate relational patterns using animals rather than people. Having animal figurines in your therapy space allows children the opportunity to communicate about people without having to do so directly.
- Doctor’s Kit: A doctor’s kit can assist a child in communication about trust, nurturance, relationships, hurt and empathy. It may be useful to make your own medical kit for your playroom, including a stethoscope, bandaids, and cotton balls.
- Telephone: Telephones are great metaphors for communication in play therapy. I recommend having two telephones in case the child wants to include the therapist in the play. When children use the phone in the playroom, it is important to be mindful of who they are calling, who they are talking to, who they cannot get connected with, how they are responding verbally, and how they are responding nonverbally.
- Army Men: Army men were one of the first aggressive toys I ever had! They can be purchased very inexpensively at a dollar store and are worth their small price. Toy soldiers can help children communicate about group dynamics, fear, protection, and safety.
- Foam Noodles (or Pretend Swords): A great way to use a foam noodle is to cut it in half and VOILA! you have your very own play sword! Foam noodles are great to use as swords because they hurt less when you get hit, are inexpensive, are a great investment due to their long lasting nature, and are acceptable in playrooms where overt toy weapons would not otherwise be allowed.
- Pretend Handcuffs: There are many therapists that are reluctant to use pretend handcuffs in their play therapy and I’ll be the first to admit that I was one of them too! I have found that the key to using pretend handcuffs is to feeling comfortable getting out of them. Once you are confident in working the handcuffs, children will use them to communicate many things, including fear, safety, trust, and more.
- Masks: Oh how I love masks! Masks are a great thing to have in your playroom because they can communicate so many different things. When children put on the Ironman mask that I have, it can communicate that they feel powerful and in control. However, if they encourage me to wear a scary skeleton mask, they communicate fear, safety, and protection. I recommend perusing costume shops after Halloween for great masks and aggressive toys in general.
Creative Expression Toys
- Coloring Utensils: Art supplies allow children to express themselves. I recommend washable markers, crayons, and colored pencils because it allows the therapist to worry less about the ramifications of children getting their clothes or bodies marked up.
- Paper: Having paper in the playroom allows children to create what they want or need. Paper can be colored or plain and used in conjunction with coloring utensils or other art supplies, such as tape, glue, or scissors.
- Clay: Clay is a great addition to any playroom. Children can use the medium to create almost anything and the tactile experience alone can be very powerful for some children.
- Dress Up Clothes: Although not a vital item to have in a playroom, dress up clothes can be very helpful in assessing how a child views the world. I personally have a variety of hats, crowns, and vests that allow for easy clean up following the session. Similar to masks, dress up clothes are great things to obtain after Halloween or at a dollar store.
Until next time, Play On!