This is My Favorite Play Therapy Tool

Some of the deepest conversations I have had in my life have happened while riding in the car at night with another person or while cooking a simple meal together. 

I think there is something magical about being mildly distracted while talking that allows you to open up to another person and tap into a deeper part of yourself that wouldn’t be possible if you had the intensity of their gaze upon you.  I think that’s why play therapy works so well with students because when given just the right toy or manipulative, they aren’t so focused on what they’re saying and can share more easily.

“Play is a child’s natural medium for self-expression.”     –Virginia Axline

I made the mistake of using a helicopter lego set with a student once and he barely spoke to me.   He was so focused on building, that he couldn’t concentrate enough to talk and build simultaneously. Rookie mistake.  To use toys in therapy, they need to have low stakes and require minimal concentration.  That lego set was relegated to the reward center and not something I ever used as part of my actual counseling practice ever again.

Kinetic Sand

Hands down, the best toy I’ve found to get kids to open up has been The Kinetic Sand Beach Day Fun Play Set

Photo by Julia M Cameron on

I’m not kidding, this set is incredible.  Have you ever played with Kinetic Sand?  This stuff doesn’t dry out, it doesn’t stick to you, it cleans up easily, and if you get the normal color sand, it doesn’t make a mess or dye their hands or clothes weird colors.  The best part though is the way it feels!  It has a feel similar to Play-Doh and holds shape similar to Play-Doh, but doesn’t get that gross overworked feeling.

I had a zen garden and a bowl full of fidgets and squish toys when I worked with upper grades and even the adults couldn’t resist playing with the toys on my desk.  It’s worth mentioning that you’ll need to educate teachers on your use of toys, otherwise, they’ll walk by your office and just assume that kids are “wasting” class time playing with you. 

If you’re paying attention though, you’re going to learn a lot about the person you’re working with–are they kind and cooperative or aggressive?  You’ll be able to talk to your students through play and teach skills that are difficult to comprehend verbally for children.

“Play is basic to all normal and healthy children.  It provides pleasure and learning and a minimum of risks and penalties for mistakes.”

Frank Caplan, Educational Toys Pioneer

Frank, I couldn’t agree more.  The fact that its sand, which is ephemeral by nature, means that they can build whatever they want and not be overly committed to the process because they understand it won’t last.   I love that we can play and talk for a long time without them feeling pressured or overly self-conscious.

“If we want our children to move mountains, we first have to let them out of their chairs.

Nicolette Sowder

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