Child therapy toys

child therapy toys

From Therapy Times 12.03.07

Therapy Times' Most Influential: Recognizing the movers and shakers in the therapy industry, Gary Yorke, PhD and Jane Yorke, MA

Toys that are fun, exciting and/or appropriate to facilitate play therapy can be hard to find at local toy stores. But, forget scanning multiple aisles to locate noncompetitive games; thanks to child psychologist Gary Yorke, PhD, and Jane Yorke, MA, founders of, the appropriate tools for clients or loved ones of mental health professionals and parents are just a few mouse clicks away.

Memory cards, self-help books for kids, dollhouses, sand toys and various other therapy products - specifically designed to facilitate positive therapeutic value - can easily be found on the Yorkes’ Web site, ordered and shipped directly to therapists. The Yorkes’ continual involvement in providing play therapy toys and noncompetitive games should be greatly appreciated by professionals, parents and children, alike.


Play therapy is a unique psychotherapeutic practice with a general aim that might be gleaned from the term itself: providing therapy through play. However, this broad explanation might suggest that play therapy is merely a method used to lift the spirits and divert the encumbered minds of troubled children by encouraging them to do what they enjoy doing most. While play itself can yield therapeutic results, such an understanding of play therapy would hardly scratch the surface of the theories, uses, and complexities involved in the play therapy process.

What counseling and psychotherapy aim to do for adults, play therapy aims to do for children. Specifically, play therapy encourages the expression of a child’s feelings, experiences, and cognitive functioning. This knowledge is vital to the therapist in determining the direction of the therapy process, as well as measuring the success of the intervention throughout a series of play therapy sessions. This method of extracting and utilizing information through effective interpersonal communication is theoretically in tune with any therapeutic approach, but play therapy distinguishes itself by conducting its observations in a uniquely revealing environment.

Play is an essential component in a child’s emotional, psychosocial, cognitive, and behavioral development. Children also use play as a means of expressing themselves in ways that are not possible through direct communication. By using play as an outlet, a child is able to reveal (and a play therapist is able to observe) any confusion, frustration, or anxiety that might be inhibiting their development or otherwise preventing them from enjoying a happy, healthy childhood. It is for this reason that play has been referred to as the “language of childhood” and the role of a play therapy practitioner is to interpret this language and address important issues using a variety of play therapy approaches.

Though the type of play therapy employed will vary depending on a child’s situation, the most basic play therapy technique used by play therapists is commonly referred to as “child-centered play therapy.” The crucial elements in this formula, as in all play therapy approaches, are environment and the child-therapist relationship. Play therapy sessions are held in intently designed spaces called “play rooms” which contain an array of toys and activities deliberately chosen and carefully placed by the play therapy practitioner. Since the primary purpose of play therapy is to elucidate the child’s natural behavior, the play therapist must create an especially accepting and non-punitive atmosphere. If this arrangement is clearly established, the child will be more relaxed and instinctive and the play therapist will have a chance to make more acute observations. As the child displays his or her toy preferences (dolls, toy guns, costumes, etc.), behaviors, and levels of interaction, the play therapist—using theoretical models and their own expertise—can begin to assess and rationalize any existing issues ranging from trauma or stress to learning difficulties. Careful observation and analysis during the play therapy sessions allows the play therapist to provide the helpful guidance and structure necessary to resolve a child’s problems and restore healthy growth and development.

For over fifty years, this play therapy methodology has been used as a successful intervention and diagnostic device for children ranging from three to ten years old. However, as more research is done on the effects and uses of

play therapy, the process has taken on many specialized forms and has been extended to treat mental health problems in people of all ages. It seems obvious that embracing and thoughtfully utilizing the natural, cathartic effects of enjoying oneself through play and humor can have a profound impact on the processes of both development and healing.

Click here for more information about play therapy and sand tray work.


Throughout history, sand has been used as an essential ingredient in the construction of the world around us. Brick, glass, and concrete would not exist without sand and, thusly, neither would our modern framework as we know it. In a similar, more figurative sense, sand tray therapy uses sand to create a physical, symbolic model of an individual’s inner worlds and exclusive realities—or, perhaps more appropriately, their personal, psychological infrastructure. By using the sand tray as the canvas and a large assortment of miniature sand tray objects as the medium, sand tray therapy allows a burdened or distraught person to express him or herself in a way that is therapeutic for the individual and interpretable by the sand tray therapy practitioner. As simple as this process might seem, sand tray therapy intervention has been practiced, studied, and diversified for over seventy years and involves many different components and theories.

Sand tray therapy (also known as sandplay or The World Technique) was developed by Dr. Margaret Lowenfeld during the 1920s. Working as a pediatrician, she observed the importance of children’s play as a therapeutic device, as well as a window into their cognitive and psychological functioning. Applying this theory to child therapy, it was discovered that providing children with the tools to express themselves in their own unique way and learning to interpret the language of play can illuminate a great deal of important information about the child. When combined with the almost inexplicable soothing effects of sand, sand tray therapy was born as an innovative method of both healing and expression.

The physical tools involved in sand tray therapy (aside from sand) are a tabletop sand tray, a water source, and a large, assorted array of miniatures that can be manipulated by the sand tray participant inside the sand tray. A sand tray typically measures four-feet by three-feet, making it no larger than the sand tray therapy participant’s field of vision. Examples of sand tray miniatures include animals, people, furniture, vehicles, food, buildings, and so forth. The amount and variety of sand tray miniatures provided can correlate with the sand tray participant’s options for expression and, therefore, with the effectiveness of the sand tray therapy. Though all of these sand tray supplies are essential to the sand tray process, the most vital components of successful sand tray therapy relate to the technique of the sand tray therapist.

As with many other methods of play therapy, sand tray therapy must be conducted in a non-invasive manner. Since the goal of the sand tray therapist is to illicit and assess the true meanings of the world created in the sand tray, the participant must feel completely uninhibited and free to express him or herself in whatever way their feelings dictate. Sand tray therapy does involve interaction between therapist and participant, but in a non-authoritative environment. The sand tray therapist invites the participant to tell a story or, perhaps, recreate a memory with the sand tray miniatures on the landscape of the sand tray. The specific choices and manipulations of the objects must be acutely observed by the sand tray therapist and explored through careful inquiry. Discussing the participant’s sand tray world can lead to revelations about struggles or anxieties, in-depth self-exploration, the development of strong coping skills, and, ultimately, a profound healing experience.

Though sand tray therapy was originally developed as a method of helping children articulate their emotions and experiences, it has since been embraced as a mode of expression and coping for adults, as well. The combination of exercising one’s creativity, shrinking complex realities down to a manageable size, and finding enjoyment in the process is what makes sand tray therapy unique. As this method is continually researched and practiced, it becomes increasingly useful in a wide variety of situations.

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