We all do it.
There is that one toy, resource, or item that just NEEDS to enter your playroom. Okay - maybe more than one. You click add to cart or take it off that garage sale table and it’s yours! Off to the Playroom it goes!
I wanted to land on this topic that has come up several times recently in supervision and consultation. That is, the topic of how we integrate new items into our play space.
Maybe you’re thinking - but Ann…. you just unpackage it and put it on your shelf, right? How complicated can it be?
Well...I wanted to make the case for intentionality when introducing new items to your playroom or taking old items out.
Every new toy in your Playroom can significantly affect the neuroception of safety in your office and can spark anything from curiosity, sorrow, intense distraction, or all out giddiness.
This can actually interrupt the flow of play or play theme that may have been building up over weeks. Sometimes it might be exactly what the child needs. Other times a distraction.
And sometimes kids can start to feel like your office isn’t safe or stable and might start asking you (even every week) “What’s new?” if the toys rotate too frequently.
Wait. Does this mean I should never get new toys?
Of course not! New toys are essential to our practice as we are replacing things that are broken or used (yes Play Dough I’m looking at you) or when we want to add to the collection of materials available for children.
At the same time we want to make sure that as we are bringing new things we evaluate what might need to make an exit out of the Playroom. Maybe that toy that never gets used and you need the precious space for something else, or just something that is on its last leg.
For the toys that have seen their last session, for some children it can be a sense of loss and grief or create an uneasy or unstable feeling.
So….what do we do about it? I put together my three phase method of making changes in the Playroom that might be useful as you evaluate your own Playroom!
Evaluate Your Toys
I think it is a great practice to occasionally evaluate your toys. Take a mental stock of what is being used and what hasn’t been touched...like ever. For the toys in the latter category I like to take a deep evaluation of is the toy not used because it is not appealing or useful to play OR is the storage and placement something that is a barrier to use. Does it need to be shifted in placement or taken out?
I also like to go back to my foundational Child Centered Play Therapy text books HERE and HERE and see how my categories and availability of toys is comparing to the suggested lists. If I am thinking about taking things out of the Playroom is that category represented in another way? If I am thinking about adding toys into the Playroom what do I already have in that category? Can children use the existing toys for play or does this new object amplify what can be done?
Identify the Changes
Now it is time to identify what specific changes you would like to make. Shift up the placement of objects, take out some old toys that aren’t terribly effective for Play Therapy themes, or the creation of a new list of items you would like to add. Maybe a new desk or coffee table? New storage for toys? Yup. All of that counts as a shift and a change.
In all of this we again keep the theory at the forefront of what purpose each toy serves. Even though you or your child might LOVE one of the newest toy crazes - how it fits into your theory will determine whether it is invited into your Playroom!
All At Once
I am a huge fan of selecting certain times a couple of times a year or less (sometimes only one) to make changes into your Playroom. For me one of these times is usually around the holiday season only because I can usually find some good deals on new toys.
If we are using the “All At Once” method, then several times per year the young people we see will have some opportunities to process through healthy changes in a therapeutic space BUT won’t get so distracted like if new toys are coming into our office every other week.
When I decide to make a shift (like I am now as I go back to in person) I save up some of the toys that I have been gathering or furniture I want to paint and all at once make the shift. Then as time goes on and I collect things here and there I just continue to make a pile or a stash until it gets big enough to rearrange and put into the playroom.
The one exception
In all of this there is definitely one exception, which is if a toy is significantly broken or dangerous it needs to be removed immediately. We can empathize with clients and identify feelings as they process through the loss of a favorite toy, but we definitely don’t want to keep something dangerous lingering around.
Want to know more about setting up your Play Therapy space? Check out this training HERE!
What about you? Comment below with how you like to assess and shift toys in your Playroom!
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I'm Ann Meehan, an LPCC,