Therapeutic Play in the Home


“Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul.” – Friedrich Froebel (founder of the concept of kindergarten)

I had the opportunity to attend a training in Therapeutic Play this summer and it’s probably been one of my favorite trainings this year. There are a few different ideas within this framework of “therapeutic play.” There is child led  where the adult sort of follows along watching a child play. There is also adult initiated where the adult comes up with the play and invites the child to play along. While I am not in any place to discuss these ideas further (but I would encourage you to find someone with more experience to learn from) where I wanted to take you today was this idea of adult initiated play in the home.

“Therapeutic” does seem like a fancy word.

In our training we were shown a few activities that we could use spontaneously in our home to connect with our kids. We’ve tried out a handful of them over the past few weeks and I wanted to share our favorites.

  1. Catch the stuffed animal. Balance a stuffed animal on your head. Ask to hold your child’s hands. Try to catch the stuff animal with your hands by dropping your head down. Try putting it on your shoulder or elbow.
  2. Ball.  Stand a few inches away from each other. Throw the ball back and forth, taking a step back each time. Make it a priority to not throw it at one another.
  3. Guess the letter (or shape or number). Draw a letter on your child’s back and ask them to guess what it is.
  4. Snort Christmas Songs. This’ll guarantee you some laughs.
  5. Play what’s missing. This is great for the dinner table or when you are out at a restaurant. Ask everyone to remember everything on the table. Take away one object. See if they can guess what’s missing. We had one exciting night where I *may* have ended up under the table.  In public. At a nice restaurant. In a dress.

See? Not so hard.

Therapeutic Play is simply the idea that we are just trying to connect with our kids. Connect with them through silliness and quality time and intentional play. There are a few ground rules I wanted to mention that are integral to this idea of play:

  1. No hurts. This includes no tickling or rough housing.
  2. Focus. This is intentional time we have set aside. Put down your phone or computer or turn off the tv. Make appropriate eye contact.
  3. If they don’t want to play with you, don’t make them play with you.

I wanted to list some great resources but I started to realize how all over the board this concept is with therapists. Some think it’s great. Some think it’s stupid. Some say that this has to be done in a structured environment and some don’t really define this type of play at home as anything other than play at home.

Take what you love, leave what you don’t. Give your kiddos some squishy hugs and have fun trying to snort jingle bells. Even if it doesn’t help anything, chances are it won’t hurt.

“It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.” -Leo Buscaglia (author, educator)


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