Search This Blog

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Play Therapy in Schools

I've recently had the privilege of speaking to a Counseling Children class at my university about the practical uses of play therapy in schools.Play therapy is often viewed as something that only clinical counselors can do. It's seen as being too time consuming and a poor use of a school counselor's time. These statements, however, could not be further from the truth!

Imagine that someone in an authority role came up to you and started asking you to do something in a language that you could not understand or comprehend. You most likely would not know what to say in response, and would be at a loss of what you were expected to do. Using talk therapy with children can sometimes come across this way too.

Play is a child's first language. Using play therapy allows the child to express themselves in an alternative, more comfortable way. Children learn about their world through play, and are able to manipulate their world on a smaller scale to work through their own issues. We have been taught to meet the children where they are. If they are most comfortable in speaking "play", why should we not meet them where they are?

As stated by Blanco and Ray in their article, Play Therapy in Elementary Schools: A Best Practice for Improving Academic Achievement,  “Play therapy allows child to overcome emotional limitations that were hindering expression of intelligence and released the child to demonstrate full potential (2009).” Play therapy helps kids succeed academically by helping to remove emotional barriers. 

So, how can you use play therapy as a school counselor, and still keep your sanity?? Below are some ideas!

  • Interview puppets about child
  • Make up stories with puppets 
  • “impulsive puppy”- Classroom puppet who teaches students how use whole body listening
  • "Which puppet are you? Why?" 
  • Create your own puppets
    • Finger puppets - cut tips off cheap gloves, attach googly eyes, yarn hair, construction paper  (or felt) clothes
    • paper bag puppets- decorate with markers, lightweight materials
  • Puppet shows
    • Shy students can hide behind puppet theater
    • Have student puppeteers present to classes on important issues
    • Introduce new topics to class using puppet shows
    • Shoe box for finger puppets, trifold board or turned over table to bigger puppets
Play Dough
  • Create a feeling using dough - what does sad look like to you?
  • Make yourself from dough - what do you like about yourself? What, if anything, do you wish you could change?
  • Take out aggression- punch, squeeze, hammer, etc
  • Energy outlet while talking- gives hands something to do while mouth does the talking
Sand Tray
  • Create your world - who is in your world? what are they doing?
  • Make a story - tell me a story about a time when you ___.
  • Who do they introduce? Do they leave out anyone seemingly important? Where are objects placed in relation to one another?
  • Ask questions - why did you choose a __ for yourself? How does that make (sand tray character) feel?
  • Suggest changes (what would happen if…)
  • Social skills - taking turns, patience, being a good sport, following the rules
  • Get-to know you games 
    • connect 4- for each token you drop, say one thing that you like
    • Jinga - put talking prompts on each wooden block, answer prompt as the block is chosen
    • Uno- assign color cards to prompts
Expressive Arts
  • Drawing- 
    • Draw your family doing something 
    • Family accolades- who is the happiest? is anyone sad?
    • Draw a time when you felt… 
  • Color your life- feelings assigned to color
    • ex. pizza- cheese= yellow= happiness. Pepperoni= red= Anger.
  • Zentangle- relaxation, concentration (
  • Music- give or create instruments 
    • What does sad sound like? 
    • How angry did that make you?
Other Play Techniques
  • Play house - who is there? who is not? what happens in each room, etc
  • Toss ‘n Talk ball individual or group prompts
  • toss ball while talking (great with boys)
  • Mask collage
    • outside- what you show the world
    • inside- what are you hiding from the world
  • Shared Drawing- if drawing with a child, ask what and how you should draw.  
  • Narrative (create story of life) 
    • large sheet of paper, draw big events of life, walk through and talk about each event
  • Basketball hoop in office- talk while shooting hoops! Or answer prompts to shoot the ball x number of times.


  1. Great, easy to use play therapy ideas! I love using play therapy in my elementary counseling program. It's more directive than child-centered but the kids really respond!

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Thanks to you for taking the time to create a blog. I have appreciated your ideas and am so thankful for the school counseling blogs out on the web! You will sure to get a an elementary position.

  4. I like to play games mostly outdoor. It is very relaxing and refreshing for me.

  5. Wow, What an Awesome and Great Idea using "The Toss 'n Talk Ball." I am in college learning to become an Addictions Counselor and I think I will use this either when I do my Internship or when I am an Addictions Counselor. Great idea to get the ones who have a hard time opening up and to open up.

  6. You ought to be a part of a contest for one of the finest websites on the internet. I most certainly will highly recommend this web site!
    Failed Back Surgery
    Hip Pain Treatments
    Chronic Headache Causes
    Joint Pain Frankfort
    Musculoskeletal Pain Frankfort
    Neck Pain Frankfort
    Pelvic Pain Frankfort


Please leave a comment!