Play Therapy Toys

Apr 16, 2007

I often encourage parents to play with their children in their homes and discuss the potential benefits of doing so. I have had several parents ask me if any toys are okay, or should there be specific toys chosen for the play times. In answer to those questions, here is a detailed explanation of which toys should be used and which ones to avoid.

Much research has been done about play therapy and why it works. Studies show that when there are appropriate toys available that represent all areas of life, children can use them to recreate, reenact, imagine or fantasize about the past, present or future. This becomes a safe place to try frightening things, come up with a better ending than the one they experienced, learn about consequences, etc.- all with the use of toys!

Play toys are to be selected, not collected. This means the toys are to be chosen for the specific purpose of play. Compiling a group of toys that have been given to you or that you have lying around the house does not facilitate the most effective work that can be done in a play session with your child. Try to avoid electronic games or video games, coloring books, toys that are easily broken or important to you, and toys that are difficult to move or put away.

I encourage you to set aside 30 minutes a week, the same time and day of the week if possible, to play with your child. To read a previous article with more tips on how to do that and why it is helpful, view Make Playtime a Priority!.

In order for you to be prepared to begin play sessions with your child, here is a list of recommended toys to use with your child. Please keep in mind, these are the special playtime toys and should be kept in a bin or box separate from the rest of their toys. Your child should learn to anticipate playing with the “special” toys for that thirty minutes a week. These are merely suggestions, and you do not need EVERY toy listed below. Several from each category should be sufficient.

REAL-LIFE TOYS (these promote imaginative play)

  • small baby doll
  • nursing bottle (real one that can hold liquid)
  • doctor’s kit with stethoscope (add bandaids, ace bandages, gloves, etc.)
  • toy phones (recommend two to communicate)
  • doll house
  • doll family (mother, father, brother, sister, etc.)
  • play money (credit card is optional)
  • small plastic animals (domestic and wild)
  • cars/trucks
  • kitchen dishes/utensils

ACTING OUT/ AGGRESSIVE TOYS (also promote imaginative play)

  • dart gun with darts and target (parents should know how to operate)
  • rubber knife (small and bendable)
  • soft rope
  • aggressive animal (snake, shark, lion, dinosaurs)
  • small toy soldiers (recommend two colors for teams or good guys/bad guys)
  • inflatable bop-bag (Bobo style preferred)
  • mask (lone ranger type)
  • toy handcuffs with key


  • play dough (suggest a cookie sheet to play on)
  • crayons (8 colors, markers are optional for older children)
  • blank paper (provide several sheets per session)
  • scissors (child Fiskars, etc. )
  • transparent tape (buy several smaller rolls)
  • egg carton or styrofoam bowl (allow child to destroy if necessary)
  • ring toss game
  • deck of playing cards
  • soft foam ball
  • two balloons per session
  • selection of arts and crafts material (this depends on age of child)
  • binoculars
  • tinkertoys or building blocks
  • tambourine or other small musical instrument

Let this be a guide for you to start a play time with your child. Each child should have their own play time, and allow yourself to have fun!