The Water Lily Way

A school counselor's story of how to live, work and play…the water lily way

The language of children -the language of play

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My Passion for Play

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Earlier this fall I was introduced to play therapy in one of my graduate classes. I really didn’t know what to think about it at first, but had some similar thoughts to what I believe a lot of people have when they hear the term “play therapy.” How can playing with children be effective? Is anything really getting accomplished? How can play HELP a child?

As I began reading about play therapy, I became more and more attracted to the approach. I began experimenting with play therapy with children in an after school program. I can’t express how “appropriate” play therapy seemed from day one of working with these kiddos. I am still working with these children today on a weekly basis, and engaging with them through play therapy. To say the least, it didn’t take me long until I realized the significance and value in connecting with children through their form of communication. I think as adults, we often times forget that our little ones are still developing, physically, cognitively, emotionally and socially.

For the adult, the natural form of communication is verbalization, whereas for children, their natural form of communication is play and activity. It is difficult for young children to express how they feel because developmentally they lack the cognitive and verbal ability to express what and how they are feeling and experiencing in life. It is not that children do not want to express their thoughts and emotions, but rather that they do not have the vocabulary to do so. Children are typically not able to fully engage in abstract reasoning and thinking until around age 11/12. Play allows children to express and learn about their emotions and thoughts. Play is a way children can learn about themselves, how to resolve conflicts, control their emotions, communicate their feelings and much, much more. Ultimately, play is a child’s language.

Here is just a brief overview of play therapy. The resources I obtained this information from is listed below. I also included a picture of what my play therapy tote currently looks like. Many play therapist have their own “play room” to work with children in, however as a soon to be school counselor I feel it will be more beneficial to have a mobile tote full of toys and materials for my future play experiences with students. As always, please feel free to e-mail or comment with any other questions you may have. J

Play Therapy Provides:

  • A place and time for a child to organize their thoughts and experiences
  • A place for a child to project feelings through self-chosen toys that may be too threatening for the child to express verbally
  • Feelings of acceptance
  • A safe and comfortable place for a child to risk
  • An experience where the child feels in control, and thus more secure
  • A space where a child can test limits, gain insight about behavior, learn consequences and explore alternatives
  • Access to a child’s unconscious thoughts and feelings that they are unaware of
  • Stress inoculation (allows children to play out events they may be anxious/stressed about & helps them become more comfortable with what is to come)
  • Encouragement and competence
  • A sense of connectedness to others; attachment formation

Children Learn:

  • Their feelings are acceptable
  • To be more open in expressing their feelings; instead of being controlled by their feelings
  • To be creative and resourceful in confronting problems
  • Self-control (feelings, emotions, thoughts)
  • Self-exploration/self-discovery
  • To make their own choices, and to be responsible for those choices
  • Social and problem solving skills
  • Assertiveness
  • Empathy
  • Perspective taking

Representation of Toys- Materials chosen and used in play therapy facilitate a wide range of emotional and creative expression by children. Here are what five different categories of toys can represent in play therapy.

Family/Nurturing: Provide opportunities for children to build relationships with the counselor, encourages exploration of family relationships and allows children to project experiences that happen in their lives. (Ex. dolls, puppets, play kitchen appliances, baby bottles)

Scary-Allows children to confront and work through their fears. (Ex. “fierce” animal figures or puppets, possibly trucks, cars or ambulances for some children dependent upon their experiences)

Aggressive-Provide opportunities for children to express anger and aggression and also to learn about and practice self-control. (Ex. play guns, swords, knives)

Expressive-Encourage children to express their feelings, thoughts, emotions, and creativity. (Ex. markers, glue, play dough, paint, feathers)

Pretend/Fantasy-Help children in experiencing different behaviors, attitudes and roles. (Ex. Doctor’s kit, blocks, building materials, costumes, jewelry, masks)

playtote

(Dry erase board, books, stationary, construction paper, markers, crayons, foamy balls, bubbles, glue, scissors, play dough, tea set, cars, soldiers, straws, stickers, dinosaurs, dominos, trucks, glitter, crazy foam, pom poms, toy gun)

*My “play tote” is still evolving! I would to gather more materials for the nurturing and fantasy categories. I hope to get puppets, dolls, dress clothes and masks in the near future. 🙂

 “Toys are used like words by children, and play is their language.”

-Have a wonderful weekend. Jessica

Resources:

Play Therapy Basics & Beyond by Terry Kottman

Foundations of Play Therapy by Charles E. Schaefer

Play Therapy: The Art of the Relationship by Garry L. Landreth

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Author: jesserannp

Professional School Counseling Graduate Student

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