“You can do almost anything you want in the playroom. If there is something you can’t do, I will let you know.”
Mostly we play in the playroom. Talking, not so much.
Boy, age 7

The Playroom

The playroom is entirely unplugged and children don’t seem to mind ;). In fact, children enjoy coming to the playroom. The playroom is a safe and confidential space that offers children an opportunity to express thoughts and feelings (usually through play) that might otherwise remain hidden.

I routinely introduce children to the playroom by saying, “You can do almost anything you want in the playroom. If there is something you can’t do, I will let you know.” This statement serves as an invitation to explore the boundaries and limits in a safe way.

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My guinea pig, Luna, welcomes children to the play space. She loves to be held and hand-fed. Luna helps to create a relaxed atmosphere, thus allowing children to experience me and therapy itself as less threatening. I have found that Luna serves many therapeutic functions; she is often a transitional object, a reinforcement for behavior change, a cathartic holding object, a metaphor for rationalizations and feelings, a role play participant, and a nonjudgmental entity who facilitates the expression of feelings, and a facilitator for healthy attachment and ego integration – to mention a few.

Children are naturally drawn to the sandtrays. I offer kinetic, as well as standard sand to make use of in their own unique way.

My instructions are simple, “You can use as many or as few miniatures as you wish to make a world in the sand. There is no right or wrong way to do this. Whatever you do is just fine.” Then I sit back and I witness.

I pay attention to thematic material, miniature choices, verbalizations, and use of characters. I am particularly interested in themes that carry over from week to week. This is an incredibly calming activity that, at times, lasts an entire session.

Eventually, children find their way to the Calm-down Swing. This is a private, quiet swing that offers a healthy option to manage uncomfortable feelings. Or maybe the BOE BopBag is more suitable to the child’s temperament.

Bop is “really dumb and doesn’t do anything right”. I instruct children that they can say and do almost anything to Bop without getting into any trouble (because Bop is not a real person).

Art supplies are readily available for those who identify as “artist”. I reinforce that there are no rules about how things must look in art, and that almost anything can be changed or adjusted if the artist wants to do so. The artist is in charge.

There are plenty of therapeutic board games and books for the children to choose from. Occasionally, I utilize a more directive approach and suggest a game or “issue specific” book. I find that using this directive approach can be an effective way to offer quick relief to children who are experiencing stress due to various life transitions such as grief and loss, divorce, serious illness, or social struggles. And believe it or not, there are a few therapeutic board games that are actually fun. It is also an easy way to build impulse control and overall socialization skills.

Every toy in the playroom promotes expression of thoughts, feelings, and emotions in ways that are unique to each child.

Some examples of therapeutic toys include:

Multi-cultural doll families
Doll houses and furniture
Puppet families (animals, people)
Anatomically correct baby dolls and caretaking supplies
Domestic animal family
Blankets / pillows
Anybody (stuffed cuddly)
Yogabo (oversized comfy beanbag)

Kitchen utensils
Medical and Veterinary kit
Purse, wallet, play money
Dress up clothes / costumes
Grocery Store
Schoolhouse and buses
Cars, airplanes, trucks, trains, boats, and school bus
Balls, balls, balls
Legos, legos, legos
Playing cards
Police cars, fire truck and other emergency vehicles
Therapeutic books (life transitions/situation adjustment)
Sensory materials
Board games (commercial and therapeutic)
Guns (Nerf)
Wild animals
BOE Bop Bag

Paint, crayons, markers, colored pencils, chalk
drawing paper and other art materials
Play-doh / clay / model magic
Sand tray with miniatures
Multiple art “projects”
Magic wand, mirror