Do you know a play therapist or child counselor and have no idea what to get them?
Or, are you a play therapist that needs to give your friends and family some gift ideas?
I was thinking of the list while driving in the car and so got some of my play therapist friends to turn it into a song (to help me remember the list and also to take a silly little break during the holidays). Check it out here.
If you'd like to be spared the silly antics, you can skip right to the list here.
While it may feel like I am promoting affiliate products because I mention them over and over again, there are no affiliate links in this post and the products and companies I share are those that I use and love.
One of the first things you need when starting out in the play therapy field is a membership to the Association for Play Therapy. Membership costs range from $45-90 depending on your status and includes 4 quarterly magazines and 4 quarterly research journals. You can check the directory to see if the person is already a member.
You might be wondering why TWO dollhouses? Well, because many children who come to therapy have parents that are divorced or separated or travel between caregivers on a regular basis. Having two dollhouses helps children express what is happening in different environments.
You also want to look for gender-neutral and durable products, which I why I suggest investing in a wooden dollhouse. You can find tons of examples on Amazon in different sizes and price ranges. Bigger is not always better in this case, and the portable and fold able options are handy to have!
Three is a good number in the play therapy world. It represents variety, but not excess. It allows for a family or small group to each play a role and is definitely a good start for any beginning play therapist.
Seasoned clinicians often rotate new puppets into their selections and are always chatting about the new releases from Folkmanis.
And for those who are familiar with the Play Therapy Summit, Tammi Van Hollander has this awesome Genie in a Bottle puppet from Folkmanis that has been discontinued, but if you were to find one on eBay, then you really be a true magical Santa Claus!
Toys that express aggression are important in the play therapy world. They are one of the categories of toys recommended by play therapy leader, Dr. Garry Landreth.
Some clinicians use a pool noodle cut in half and others have more pirate-style foam swords, but you can't have a fight with just one sword, right?
Really two is all you need, but they don't last forever so having a spare set as a back-up is good practice. Again, Amazon has a selection of foam swords (but I would not recommend the hard plastic ones. They may look cool, but they hurt too much if you get hit with one!)
They don't all have to be capes, but at least one should be! The need to feel powerful is important and the metaphors that go along with superheroes are a central component to many play therapy sessions. However, any other type of dress up clothes are appropriate as well.
This includes hats, scarves, necklaces, doctor coats, firefighters, police officers, chefs, etc. Melissa and Doug offers a good variety, but you can really get creative here.
Play therapists are typically life-long learners with a book list a mile long.
Many of them are members of my book club. We are reading Lisa Dion's #1 psychotherapy new release Aggression in Play Therapy and will be discussing it in January. It's totally free to join the discussion and the book is available for less than $30.
The members of my Facebook group voted on the best books for new play therapists and I took a snapshot of some of my favorite books as well. (When in doubt, a gift card to a play therapy store like the Self-Esteem Shop will allow them to choose a book on their own).
One of the downfalls of play therapy practice is that many of our materials are consumables -things like paint, play-doh, clay, and other art supplies need to be replenished throughout the year.
So, any version of non-toxic, washable art supplies are generally on our wish lists. For older kids that come to play therapy, those cool sets of Sharpies or gel pens work well too. We like to have a variety. I have a firm no glitter policy, but others are more accepting. When in doubt, say no to glitter.
A set of toy soldiers makes a perfect stocking stuffer. And be sure to think in even numbers so that you have a set of good guys and bad guys. Extra points if they come in a different color for each side.
In play therapy, children need a chance to act on impulses and feelings related to being both good AND bad, the victim and the perpetrator or the helper and the attacker. Having toys like this allows play therapists to facilitate a wide range of topics and emotions.
Equally important to the aggressive toys, are those designed for nurturing. Now, you don't really need NINE. (That was more for the song and for the alliteration).
A few culturally diverse dolls are a must-have though. Definitely look for dolls that look different than your friend or family member or that represent children that live in your community!
I love to give this set of diverse characters as a gift to new clinicians. And, my dad scored a Barbie doll with a wheelchair at a yard sale one year and sent it over as a present for me.
And, don't feel bad at all about shopping for your play therapist at yard sales, consignment sales or second-hand shops. We often prefer used toys over new ones!
You can go all out and find an awesome wooden play kitchen (again, remember to look for gender-neutral!), but any good set of pretend food will work.
A colleague recently found a bunch of felt food kits at the Dollar Bins at Target and I love the Melissa and Doug condiment keeper. The salt and pepper looks so real!
Again, it was for the song. BUT, the virtually indestructible Melissa and Doug Blocks are a staple in many play therapy rooms. You can literally stand on them; make towers and knock them down or build a wall and use them for protection when having those fights with the soldiers or the foam swords.
Another great item are wooden block sets like these from Child therapy Toys that can be used for play therapy interventions like Carla Sharp's Build A House Technique. If you're not familiar with it, get additional training, but you need a decent sized set to get started.
Many play therapists also have training in Sand Tray. If you don't, you will notice that it is one of the books from my favorite books in #6. Once you get started in sand tray, you will add Sand Tray miniatures to your shelves on a regular basis.
You can gift your play therapist friends a unique, hand-crafted Hawaii wave miniature from Kennedy's Mini's or take just about any small ornament or figurine and turn it into a first-class gift.
This is another great stocking stuffer gift as prices can range from just $1 up to around $20 or more. You can also find a great selection of sand tray gifts at Play Therapy Supply.
Play therapists: Tag your friends and family with the numbers that top your wish list or send me a comment with the things that you are coveting for your play therapy space.
And don't forget to check out our fun rendition of the 12 "Play Therapy" Days of Christmas here.
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Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at firstname.lastname@example.org
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