Many parents walk into my play room and are a little surprised by the explanation of the importance of the toys. I am very careful to communicate that play room toys have been specifically selected, not collected. They either fall into one of three main categories of toys, or they are therapeutically useful in another capacity.
Much research and observation has gone into what should (and should not) be included in a play room. The overarching belief is that the toys should be basic and traditional, so that they can be creatively used in any capacity. They should represent things that make sense to the child, to connect with his world or experiences. And they should be organized in a way that seems purposeful and related.
Acting Out/Aggressive Toys
Acting out/aggressive toys are designed to allow kids to express negative feelings and process challenges. These toys include knives, swords, guns, handcuffs, shields, walkie talkies, army men, masks, and bop bags. This category allows kids to create a difficult situation so that it can be redeemed or fixed. And it also allows for limits when necessary and the understanding of consequences to choices.
Real Life Toys
Real life toys are designed to provide a child with the ability to play out any scenario that would take place in everyday situations. This would include family interactions, going to work/having a job, using household objects, making dinner, getting groceries, and caregiving. This gives them the opportunity to practice tasks and skills that are required in daily living.
Creative/Emotional Expression Toys
Creative/emotional expression toys are designed to allow the child to test his abilities and implement problem solving skills. This would include jump ropes, art supplies, craft materials, rocks, wooden blocks, and musical instruments. This category is especially helpful for kids who are building self-esteem and self-confidence.
Other Useful Items
Aside from toys that fall under one of the three categories, there are other useful and therapeutically beneficial items that are typically found in play rooms. These might include puppets and a theater, dress up clothes, a tent, an art center, board games, and a doll house.
When kids come into a play room, they need to feel that the space is inviting, relaxing, and organized. It is important that they know where to find the same item each week, as this helps them balance the chaos and confusion of their world. Plus, the more neutral and basic the toys, the more the child makes them what they need to be as they grow and heal.