September 2, 2017

Questions about “must have” toys get asked so many times by clinicians new to the field of play therapy.  And, the answers can vary widely.  I’ve given parents some of my favorite toys in the past.

Landreth’s “Must Have” Toy Categories:

The foundation for play therapy training for a lot of clinicians is Dr. Garry Landreth and Chid Centered Play Therapy.  He advises that play therapists include several toys from each of three categories.  Note that this list does not include everything that would fit into each category (they are just examples) and also that you do need everything on any list

Real Life

  • Play kitchens and play food
  • Doctor kits and band-aids
  • Dolls and Dollhouses
  • Animals, Cars, Trucks, People
  • Cash Register and Play Money


  • Art supplies
  • Paint
  • Play-doh
  • Dress Up
  • Puppets and Puppet Theater

Aggressive/Emotional Release

  • Toy guns 
  • Foam swords
  • Rubber knives
  • Rope
  • Soldiers
  • Aggressive puppets or figures (sharks, dinosaur, alligator, etc)

Directive Play Therapists “Must Have” Toys

When doing  more structured or directive play therapy interventions, you usually need things like:

“Must Have” Elements of a Play Therapy Space

It can be quite easy to find excellent toys everywhere you go.  And Dr. Landreth reminds us all to beware of the urge to get everything.  He says in his book, The Art of the Relationship, “Toys should be selected, not collected.”  

And I created this infographic to summarize my thoughts on creating the perfect play therapy space that you might find helpful.

Reframing The Question

But, I just recently heard it explained in a wonderful way by a colleague, Dr. Jessica Stone, who responded to this very question during a discussion board about the Play Therapy Summit.   She gave me permission to share it with you:

Hi all, I like to take an approach of collecting gems along my way in this field. I am not sure I could identify the one thing my office couldn’t live without. It is complex. Is that my personal favorite thing? Or my client’s? Or the majority of my clients? What comprises a favorite thing?

I believe what we have in our offices needs to be a balance of 1) what is congruent with who we are, what we believe, what our theoretical foundation is, what our space allows comfortably, etc. and 2) what speaks our client’s language, what helps our clients speak, what speaks to our clients, what allows them to experience feeling heard, seen, important, and understood.

I like to take a gem from Maria Montessori and think of the tools in my office as a way of scaffolding within the office. There are items that fit where they are in this moment, items that help them move forward, and items that work when they need to regress a bit.

Sometimes these tools aren’t our preferred or favorite. Sometimes they are. As I look around my office in response to your question I think about the clients who use the majority of the tools in my office on any given day but I also think about that one client, the one who found the tool that meant the most to them and they used it in the most amazing way – whatever that meant for them – Jessica Stone, Ph.D., RPT-S”

As I was packing up my office to move out of the state this week, I found Dr Stone’s words especially helpful.  I usually play loud music when doing tasks like this, but this time, I held each of the toys and remembered the children that used them and how they used them.  It was a mix of joy and sadness as I reflected on all of those shared moments in this specific playroom.

Final Thoughts:

In the end, I would recommend selecting a few items from each of Dr. Landreth’s categories and then considering Dr. Stone’s advice about seeing the value of all the different toys in the playroom. But, know that whatever you have is enough.  As long as you are in the room,  focusing on the relationship with the child and responding in an authentic manner.



About the Author

Jen Taylor, LCSW-C, RPT-S is an EMDR Approved Consultant and Certified Journal to the Self Instructor.  She is a therapist specializing in complex trauma, an international play therapy teacher and a published writer of multiple play therapy chapters.  Jen is the creator of the original 2017 Play Therapy Summit and many other innovative programs for mental health professionals.  Jen uses writing therapy, play therapy and expressive arts for her clients and for other mental health professionals so they can lead more joyful and meaningful lives.  Jen encourages people to try new things and create daily habits that allow for incremental progress towards previously unimaginable results.   Jen is a travel enthusiast, an avid reader, and a girl who lifts weights and runs for fun.  

  • This was such a timely (…& encouraging) post for me, as I have recently opened my private play therapy practice this past month. Coming from a history of working in fully stocked play rooms, I sometimes get discouraged at my growing, but small, collection of toys. I completely agree with you that the therapist is the most important tool in the room! I want to add that children use whatever you have available to them to create whatever it is they need for their play that may not be present in your new therapy room just yet. 😊

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